Joe Golan volunteers his mechanical skills with the Sheltering Tree, Christmas Come True and Family Life Center.
Not all heroes wear capes. A Palm Coast resident, who is lovingly dubbed “The Bike Man,” wears an apron embroidered with “Joe” in script, a Park Tool logo and a patch of the handy droid from “Star Wars,” R2-D2.
“A long time ago, far, far away, when I was an electrician, I got nicknamed that by my peers because I could fix anything,” Joe Golan said.
Patches of grease and oil give the apron even more character as Golan repairs the brakes on a kid’s green bike on the blistering hot Friday morning of July 13. Sweat drips down his forehead as his glasses slip down his nose. But he doesn’t pause in his work.
Golan has volunteered his skills for five years with Christmas Comes True, a nonprofit that provides Christmas dinner and presents for people in the county; for a year with the Sheltering Tree, a nonprofit that cares for local homeless; and for a few months with the Family Life Center, a nonprofit that focuses on ending domestic violence and sexual violence in the county.
“I have time available. Life’s been good to me,” he said. “So, why can’t I pay it back?”
While this motto has encouraged Golan to continue serving these nonprofits a few times a week, he didn’t know just how involved he would become when he first did one day of volunteering five years ago.
“I first got started with Christmas Come True when, in one of the papers — it may have been the Observer — where the Toys for Tots campaign shorted them on bicycles one year. So, I went and bought three bikes, brought them up to Nadine King, who’s the director, and she said, ‘We’ve got a few more to assemble. Do you mind sticking around?’ And that turned into a five-year project. I do about 130 bikes a year for them — that’s building new bikes.”
“I have time available. Life’s been good to me. So, why can’t I pay it back?”
- JOE GOLAN, Palm Coast resident
While he’s quick with a wrench, Golan’s professional background is in 41 years of electrical experience, not mechanics. Originally from New York, he’s lived in Palm Coast fulltime since 2010 and started volunteering soon into retirement. But he’s always been quite the handyman.
“As I kid, I always built my own bikes and serviced my own bikes because we couldn’t afford new bikes, so I kind of made them out of the parts I found,” he said. “Just over the years, taking care of my own kids’ bikes and other people’s, it’s just a natural thing for me. Anything mechanical is sort of a natural thing for me.”
Three to four days a week for about three to five hours, Golan drives his car with a trunk full of tools, along with donated used parts and new parts he buys himself, to one of the nonprofits’ locations to set up shop and get to work. He said it typically takes him about one hour to repair a donated bike that only needs a few fixes.
Golan said the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has helped with donations when he puts in requests for unclaimed property parts and bikes. He hopes others will donate and get involved with these three organizations.
While Golan is not one to toot his own horn by any means, fellow volunteers have taken note of his great local impact.
Vicky Le Tellier, Sheltering Tree board member, wrote in an online post about Golan, “Joe is truly an asset to The Sheltering Tree. Recently, he went out of his way and was very persistent until he obtained 15 bikes from the sheriff’s office from their unclaimed bike supply. These bikes continue to bless so many folks that have no other form of transportation. He’s always looking for parts so that he can continue to keep the bikes moving. He also searches the internet and local contacts to obtain tires, tubes, seats, cables and other bike parts so that he has a supply to always be ready to fix a bike when the need arises.”
Golan said one of his best part “finds” was 50 bike tires for $99. The catch? They were available for pick-up only in the Bronx, New York. So, he asked a friend who happened to be driving up North to stop by and pick them up, and the mission was a success.
While his work with Family Life Center and the Sheltering Tree is year-round, Golan said he works to fix and build 130 bikes from Thanksgiving to Christmas, specifically for Christmas Come True.
Jessica Bontempo, a family friend, calls Golan a “true humanitarian.”
“He not only helps the unfortunate with bikes, but everyone who may need help,” she said.