POWELL, Wyo. | Even though Hank Ramak is no longer able to drive, that doesn't stop the 72-year-old from finding a way to see the lady he loves. Two days a week, Ramak sets out from his home in Byron to catch a ride to Powell.
Ramak used to make the 32-mile round-trip daily, when he was still able to drive himself. But all that changed on May 30 — the Vietnam veteran's birthday — when his driver's license came up for renewal.
"I have macular degeneration," explained Ramak. "It has gotten worse. I couldn't even see well enough to fill out the form for my driver's license."
So, he started looking for rides — including by hitchhiking.
"The fact that I couldn't drive any more wasn't about to stop me from seeing Joyce," he said.
Joyce Jackson and Ramak have been a couple for more than three decades.
To be exact: "34 years, 1 month and 26 days," Ramak said on a recent day. "The good, the bad, and everything in between."
The past eight of those years, Jackson has been a resident of the Powell Valley Care Center and Ramak has faithfully traveled from Byron to Powell to visit her. She'll turn 83 next month.
Ramak met Jackson in 1980, while he was managing the Downtowner Liquor and Lounge in Cody. "Joyce would come in after work every day," he recalled. "She doesn't drink, but she loves her Pepsi. We hit it off."
Jackson had just lost her first husband to M.S.
"In one week, I lost my husband, my mother and my son. Then I met Hank," Jackson recalled, smiling at Ramak from her care center bed. "He's the most wonderful person there is."
Married to someone else at the time, Ramak divorced in 1983. He and Jackson got together in 1984 and have been a couple ever since.
Nine years ago, Jackson suffered a stroke. For the first seven months, Ramak tried to take care of her in their Byron home, but Jackson's health continued to decline. In 2010, Ramak made the difficult decision to transfer Jackson to the Powell Valley Care Center and began driving from Byron to visit her.
"I bought a new car," said Ramak. "The old one had given up the ghost; I was driving back and forth every day."
Ramak said he began experiencing difficulties with his vision several years ago and has been told he needs corneal transplant surgery. The Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for the surgery, but not for the transportation to Salt Lake City, where he needs to go for the procedure, he said.
Unable to drive, Ramak now relies on the kindness of strangers to travel between Byron and Powell.
"It usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to Powell," said Ramak. "Sometimes I have to walk 4-5 miles before getting a ride."
Typically, it doesn't take long to catch a ride back to Byron, said Ramak, but one recent afternoon he was having difficulty and started walking from the care center.
He made it to Pizza Hut when a woman pulled over and asked if he was OK, telling him that he'd been staggering in the 97-degree heat.
"I said I was hot," recalled Ramak.
The woman called her boss to say she was going to be late getting back from lunch, then drove Ramak to his home in Byron.
More recently, Ramak said he's been fortunate to catch rides with nurses as they drive through Byron on the way to morning shifts in Powell and Cody.
Jackson is thankful Ramak comes to visit her at Powell Valley Care Center, "but I worry about him when he hitchhikes," she added.