by Bekah Porter
CEDAR RAPIDS – Dick Parsons believes the word “go” exceeds its mission as a mere verb.
Instead, he considers it to be a command, a directive for how to best live fully.
“You’ve got to be on the go, doing things, making a difference,” he said. “That’s how I want to live, anyway.”
Fortunately, Mr. Parsons discovered a means of living a motion-filled life — both figuratively and literally — from behind a steering wheel.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Cedar Rapids resident founded his own driving and delivery company, 5 Star Delivery, and he learned in the process that he could use this venture to help those in need, especially veterans and cancer patients, as he falls into both of those categories.
“I decided a long time ago that the only way to live is to wake up each morning and know that you’ve got a job you love and places to go and people to see,” Mr. Parsons said. “You’ve got to have something to look forward to.”
Mr. Parsons started his career as one of the best, he said.
“I was in the Marine Corps,” he said. “You don’t get better than that.”
He served in Vietnam from April 1966 to February 1967, and upon arriving home, he sought a job that kept him moving. The answer, he said, was vehicles.
“I’ve always loved the go-go-go that driving offers,” he said.
For two decades, he worked with cars or vehicles in some manner — first as a motor vehicle dispatcher, then as an ambulance driver, then a tour bus driver, then a charter bus driver. Finally, he landed a sales position, and after earning the title of salesman of the month for his company several times, the organization tightened its payroll, and several workers were laid off, Mr. Parsons included.
“So, I got work driving a taxi, and I thought I could do that until something better came along, and it turns out, nothing better ever did,” he said. “I liked what I was doing.”
He saved enough money to buy his own taxi and drove for several other companies. Eventually, he asked the city what he had to do to start his own cab company.
“I just had to get a taxi license, so I did,” he said.
In April 1991, Mr. Parsons formed his own taxi service, which he then called Veterans Taxi Service.
“How that worked was I had one telephone and one car, and that was it,” he said. “So, I’d get a call in the middle of the night, and I’d have to get up and go on a run. And then I’d get back home and sleep for five minutes or so, and I’d get another call, and I’ve to start all over again.”
That simple business model worked, and Veterans Taxi Service grew to include eight additional drivers and four other taxis.
But in 1994, Mr. Parsons decided he wanted to do more than simply charge people for a ride. He wanted to help them. And thus 5 Star Delivery was created.
Taxi cabs are not allowed to give rides for free, Mr. Parsons said, and he wanted to help the homeless men he saw on the street or the dialysis patients who needed a cheap ride to their medical appointments.
So Mr. Parsons formed his own delivery company, which profits from its various company calls. The 72-year-old zooms around town in his cherry red Mazda convertible, picking up lab specimens, operating room equipment, birthday gifts and more that need to be rushed to another location.
“If something needs something STAT, then I’m the guy,” he said. “That’s why I came up with the slogan I did: ‘If it absolutely, positively has to be there now, call 5 Star!’”
Mr. Parsons still gives rides to different individuals, but this time on a donation basis.
“If they want to donate to the gas fund, that’s one thing,” he said. “But there’s no official charge.”
This has allowed him to help in numerous charitable situations.
Mr. Parsons has picked up homeless veterans and delivered them to the VA Medical Center. He drives one blind woman to her knitting classes. He has delivered meals for different charitable organizations. He takes cancer patients to their appointments, and in those cases, he oftentimes pushes the wheelchair all the way to the doctor’s door.
“I have a soft spot for those two areas — veterans and cancer patients,” he said.
The reason is personal, he said.
First, he said he benefited from the VA countless times. The organization provided his hip and knee replacement surgeries.
The second reason, he said, is because he knows how cancer affects lives. His wife died on Feb. 4, 2002, the same day doctors delivered his own cancer diagnosis.
“That was a rough day,” he said. “It was a dark, dark day.”
But Mr. Parsons refused to be stalled as a result.
Between the time he was diagnosed and the time he received surgery for his cancer, he went out and got his pilot’s license. In fact, he took his pilot’s license test the day before the surgery.
When Mr. Parsons wasn’t driving his own vehicle, he drove the VA’s van, going around the city to pick up veterans needing a ride to their appointment.
“I want to give back, and I have a way to do that,” he said.
For now, Mr. Parsons said he has no plans of retirement.
“Sure, I’d like to be able to play golf more, but I really enjoy what I do,” he said. “Ten years ago, I was thinking about selling the company and retiring, but then two days after I made that decision, I got to really thinking, ‘What will I do if I sold it?’ And the answer was, ‘Nothing.’ I love what I do so much. I meet new people every day, and it’s a great way to stay in touch with everything and everybody.”
So he keeps driving forward.
“I get around pretty fast,” he said. “I know the city like the back of my hand, as the saying goes. I recently got a GPS in case there’s an address I don’t know, but there aren’t many of those at all.”
Mr. Parsons said few negatives appear in his line of work; the most annoying thing about his career choice, he said, is the “slow pokes who dilly-dally in the left lane and won’t get over so I can pass.”
But he’s taking steps to correct the problem.
“I’m thinking about installing a special horn, one that’ll blow them out of the way,” he said.
Of course, he frowns when talking about the economy, too.
“There are some really slow days (as a result of the recession),” he said. “There are some days when there are only one or two calls, but then there are those days that are just crazy busy.”
And those are the days he anticipates.
“When you get two or three calls all at the same time, and you have to figure out how you’re going to handle them, that’s what gets my blood pumping, my mind going,” he said. “I love it.”
Mr. Parsons carries one cell phone in each of his pants pockets, and he has a blue tooth device in each ear, and he often fields multiple calls at once.
“This is what I live for,” he said. “I enjoy getting up every morning and looking at what’s scheduled in my little book and seeing what I’ve got going on, because I’ve got to have something going on.”