His office chair is suddenly ill-fitting.
Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Eric Dahlman, one of life’s truly good souls, is squirming.
His speech, always succinct and to the point, is uncharacteristically staggered and slightly halting.
A Senior Physical Therapy Assistant at Rock Valley’s Savanna, Ill. clinic, Dhalman is downright uncomfortable.
He is being asked to talk about himself.
“I don’t even like the attention that comes with my birthday,’’ said Dahlman, who — most would wager — could drive through the smallish albeit charming town of Savanna — and know everyone on each side of the street.
“It’s tough to talk about yourself,’’ he said. “It’s just not me.’’
While the modest Dahlman struggles with attention paid to him, others jump at a chance to sing the praises of a man who has long gone out of his way to help others. You can always find Dahlman, 51, husband to Kathy, a true gem herself, and dad to Emily, a top-notch freshman at West Carroll High School, bettering the lives of any and all in need.
“He’s a special person, always looking out for others,’’ said Bud Mix, a longtime Savanna stalwart and community pillar. “There isn’t anyone he won’t help or anything he won’t do if someone is struggling. He was raised right. Eric’s always been that way.’’
For Dahlman, running errands, clearing snow from the walks and driveways of many of Savanna’s senior citizens, ordering — and piecing together exercise equipment for his patients — is simply second nature.
Sharing his own recumbent bike with Mix or finding a bicycle for a non-tech savvy patient on the internet — and chasing it down — is only part of what makes Dahlman special.
Oh by the way, he mows the lawns of several seniors in Savanna and — if there is a dryer fire in your home — he will drop below the flames, use your fire extinguisher and put out the blaze before turning it over to the professionals.
“I was driving and there was a lady — panicked — standing on the side of the road — waving,’’ said Dahlman, who nearly a decade ago — in the middle of one career and after one degree — went back to college and became a PTA. “Her dryer was on fire and I went in and put out the fire. She had a fire extinguisher and I was able to duck below the smoke — and the flames were hitting the ceiling — and put out the fire.’’
Though he struggles to talk about himself, Dahlman loves to share the positives in his life. His wife, Kathy, and daughter, Emily, are first. There is great love and admiration for his late father, Arlen “Arlie’’ Dahlman, and his mother, Diane. He says Mix is a great example of a community leader and his career with Rock Valley never would have come to light had it not been for Savanna clinic manager Lynnette Jones.
“My wife was a patient of Lynnette’s and after describing me to her, Lynnette said I would be great for the profession,’’ said Dahlman, who like Jones, worked under the Pinnacle Physical Therapy umbrella before joining the Rock Valley family when it purchased PInnacle in 2011.
“So I had a chat with Lynnette and was lucky enough to get into the (PTA) program at Black Hawk College, ‘’ added Dahlman. “Call it what you want, but there was a reason my wife and Lynnette were brought together. It has been great for me, working here and helping people I know, in my community. A lot of these people have known me since I was a kid or known my parents since I was a kid. It’s what I am supposed to be doing. Just like it was meant to be. It was God’s plan.’’
Jones, a perfect mix of patient-first therapist, tremendous leader with a lighthearted and humorous approach, says Dahlman has found his calling
“Eric is “making better lives” for our clinic’s patients every day through his professional and expert treatment of their musculoskeletal and neurological problems, as well as his concern and assistance with their occasional or day-to-day needs for tasks that they are unable to do for themselves,’’ she said. “We are so lucky to have him.’’
To lead a life of giving it takes a variety of positive influences. For Eric Dahlman that all began at home.
“I get it from my dad and my grandfather,’’ Dahlman said. “They were always willing to help someone. My dad was involved and on just about every board you could be on in town. He was away from home until 7-7:30 each night. My mother is that way as well. She was in a real estate business and knows everyone. She needs two knee replacements, but refuses to get them done. That story is for another time.
“ And Bud (Mix) and I are cut from the same cloth. He was one of the people that motivated me. Bud has been Santa Claus for my daughter when she was little. He volunteered to do Santa Claus for the entire community. Bud is a really good guy, always involved. In fact, Bud was my Cub Scout leader when I was a kid.’’
For Dahlman, there is no hurry. He loves being a husband, father and someone his community can turn to at work and away from the office.
But when the day arrives to turn the page, there is a plan. Travel is involved, including being a Jeep tour guide in Colorado. There might even be a return trip to Costa Rica, resembling the first trip with his wife several years ago.
“I went back to Costa Rica with my wife and Emily three years ago,’’ Dahlman said. “My wife, who teaches Spanish, chaperoned a trip with students and we got to go along. We volunteered several years ago and then spent a month just living on the beach.That was as cool of an experience and you can have. When retirement comes, though, I’m thinking about Jeep tours in Colorado. I lived there for three years and it would be a great experience to go back.’’
Until then, though, life is about being a husband, father and a PTA deeply invested in his work and his community.
“I love seeing people and them saying: ‘I’m still working on my exercises’,’’ Dahlman said. “That’s what you love hearing. Of course there are those who when they see you and give you that strange grin, you know they are going to tell you they need to get back to working on the exercises you gave them, but that’s OK. It gives you a chance to encourage them. Everything is about relationships.’’
No one knows and understands that as well as Eric Dahlman.
By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller