Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 18, 2013

Priest uses big rig to make special deliveries


---- — ACME — Father Ray Cotter delivers more than sermons.

Two weeks ago, the former truck truck driver turned priest drove a semi-tractor-trailer rig to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., to pick up 1,164 free military computers for use in Michigan Catholic schools in the dioceses of Lansing, Saginaw, Gaylord and Marquette.

The trip cost the Acme Christ the King parish priest and dioceses nothing, thanks to a donation from an anonymous Old Mission cherry farmer; Cotter’s brother, who donated the 53-foot trailer; and Earl Ennis, owner of Ennis Trucking in Traverse City.

Ennis helped Cotter find a paying load to take to Washington to offset the $483 bill for 220 gallons of diesel fuel. He also made arrangements for Cotter to rent a semi tractor rig for the 1,800-mile round trip.

“That was the key,” Cotter said. “I never could have done this without the help of four companies and a family member who threw in a trailer. “

Cotter, 62, grew up in Mount Pleasant. He said he learned to drive semi tractor trucks during the 10 years he worked in the oil fields for “a company with a big truck” before becoming an ordained priest 26 years ago. He has kept his truck-driving credentials current ever since.

“I have a romance with the highway,” he said. “It started with motorcycles. Driving big trucks today is like driving an RV with a 53-foot pontoon behind you. The trucks are so comfortable and well equipped.”

The Diocese of Gaylord received the bulk of computers — laptops, desktops, monitors, keyboards, mice, cords and other peripherals. Estimated cost to the diocese of new hard drives and software is $75 per computer, said Candace Neff, communications director.

Fourteen of the diocese’s 17 Catholic schools have requested some of the computers, as have 16 home-schooling families and 10 parishes within the diocese. The remaining 840 computers went to Lansing, Marquette and Saginaw dioceses, she said.

The trip’s genesis dates back to January, when retired U.S. Air Force Col. Victor Kuchar visited Lake Leelanau School and urged students to raise $2012 in 2012 to send to the Divine Sisters Service, which cares for about 3,000 people in 95 homes in India, Neff said. Students raised the money and also collected 2,012 pounds of blankets, shoes, coats and clothing to send to Afghani refugees.

Kuchar met Gaylord Bishop Bernard Hebda that day and returned to the area to talk to other Catholic schools last year. He also told diocese officials about the Pentagon computer program, which donates recycled military computers, typically about 2 years old, to schools.

Kuchar served as chief of field operations and deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at the Pentagon from the 9/11 terrorist attacks until his 2010 retirement.

“It’s pretty incredible the way this has all come together,” Neff said.