June 13, 2001 11:00 pm
Kelly Fulfer (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
Kelly Fulfer (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Kelly Fulfer will not walk across the commencement stage when he receives his diploma at Saturday at Eastern Oregon University.

Still, no graduate will stand taller.

Fulfer, 37, has overcome a disabling 1984 motorcycle accident to earn a bachelor of science degree in liberal studies. Fulfer might receive the biggest cheer at commencement when he appears on stage in his wheelchair. The friendly, quick-witted student is an inspiration to many.

I dont see myself as an inspiration. But it makes me feel good when people say I am. I appreciate it, he said.

Fulfer, a 1983 graduate of La Grande High School, doubts that he ever would have attended Eastern if it had not been for his accident, which took place on June 6, 1984, just after midnight on May Lane in La Grande.

I wish it had never happened, but I know I would not have gone to college if it were not for the accident, said Fulfer, who was planning to pursue a military career.

In addition to a broken back, Fulfer suffered a lacerated liver and kidney, a collapsed lung and broken ribs. Fulfer, who never lost consciousness, lay at the accident scene unnoticed for four hours. Three cars passed by but did not stop even though Fulfer had switched on his motorcycles emergency blinkers.

They probably thought it was a road work sign, Fulfer said.

When Fulfer was finally found and taken to the hospital, doctors provided a grave


They did not think I would make it through the night, he said.

Fulfers flirt with death changed his spiritual perspective.

It really made me realize that God is in control. I know I wouldnt have lived if God had not wanted me to, Fulfer said.

On Saturday, Fulfer will probably move across the stage the way he has traveled around Eastern quickly. He said that improvements on campus have dramatically improved accessibility in recent years.

I can go anywhere, he said.

Fulfer first enrolled at Eastern in 1986. He had to withdraw though because much of the campus was not handicapped accessible. Its library, for example, was difficult for Fulfer to reach because it lacked an elevator.

Since then an elevator was installed, and other improvements have been made to make the campus more accessible. These improvements helped make it possible for Fulfur to return to EOU about 10 years later.

Fulfer said Easterns physical plant staff has been remarkably responsive whenever he has brought up a problem.

Once, for example, a ramp was installed to make it easier for him to get into a building.

They went out of their way to accommodate me, Fulfer said.

The uncommon challenge Fulfer faced has been compounded by the fact that he and his wife, Charlene, have four children, ages 7 to 15.

It is tough trying to keep the finances balanced and keeping up with all the sports our children are involved in. I get very little sleep and there is lots of running, Fulfer said.

Fulfer said that businessman Ron Nash of La Grande is the reason why he went to college. Nash started encouraging Fulfer to enroll in the mid 1980s.

I always have kept what he said in the back of mind, Fulfer said.

The senior also speaks highly of Easterns faculty, noting that many of his professors were very responsive whenever Fulfer had a problem related to his condition. Teachers who went out of their way to help Fulfer include art professor Doug Kaigler.

He would do anything to make it easier for me to get around, said Fulfer who minored in art and English.

In one of Kaiglers classes, Fulfer constructed a wheelchair accessible work bench which will be available to future students.

Fulfer enjoys art and is involved sculpture making, welding and fabricating.

The student also enjoys writing short stories. He has received high marks for many stories and papers he has written. They included one about his accident which received a perfect score. Fulfer does not have an undercurrent of bitterness about what happened.

Everyone is going to have to deal with physical illness or problems at some time in their life. I just had to dealing with mine sooner than most, he said.

Fulfer, who earned a 4.0 grade point average during his last term, said he might return to school someday to study law or earn a masters degree. His plans will be influenced by how his search for employment goes. He said that job hunting has been frustrating in part because of his condition.

People dont flat out tell me no because of being in a wheelchair. They never call back, Fulfer said.

Regardless of what direction Fulfer takes, he will remain up- beat.

I never let myself get depressed for more than 10 minutes, he said. I dont want my children to see me depressed and set an example. I dont want to teach them that it is OK to be depressed.

Fulfur said he enjoys cheering up people.

If I notice that people are depressed, Ill go out my way to do something to make them laugh, he said.

Despite the magnitude of what Fulfer has accomplished at EOU, he speaks humbly about it.

If I can do it, anybody can, he said.

The reason I made it through was persistence. If other people are persistent they can do it, too.