August 17, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The ironworkers of Local 361 build and maintain some of the most spectacular structures in the city, but none more impressive or heartfelt than the one that originated inside one member’s modest Smithtown garage.
Bob Dinnigan has been a union ironworker for two decades now, and is presently part of the massive $235 million project to revamp the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn. A few years ago, however, he set about working on his most personal project ever — constructing a new swing set capable of accommodating his wheelchair-bound daughter Amanda.
Young Amanda Dinnigan was profoundly injured in a horrific car accident not far from the family home some years prior, leaving her paralyzed and in need of a respirator at age 8.
The initial idea for the heavy-duty wheelchair swing set started out simply enough when Bob installed two heavy-duty hooks in the ceiling of his garage strong enough to safely support both the overall swing structure and its precious passenger. The resulting contraption, however, did not immediately engender confidence — although Amanda did eventually grow to adore the final product.
“It took me 20 minutes to talk my daughter into coming out to the garage [to ride the swing], but it took me two hours to get her out of it,” Dinnigan laughs.
After a trip to the Miami Children’s Hospital where Amanda attends summer camp, Dinnigan’s father-in-law Mike Moran, a 72-year-old construction industry veteran, decided to build upon Bob’s prototype by designing an impressive eight-foot-tall freestanding structure that would ultimately be constructed out of aluminum and steel.
With the new blueprints in hand, Dinnigan and Moran approached their friend Ken Benson, owner of Benson Steel Fabricators in Saugerties, NY, about actually building their ambitious new wheelchair swing — and Benson didn’t hesitate.
“Kenny supplied all the materials and his people came in on weekends to assemble it,” Moran says. “It was fantastic.”
The new wheelchair swing was so fantastic, that the group soon determined to bring it down to the Miami Children’s Hospital so that even more courageous kids like Amanda could enjoy it.
The specially designed wheelchair-ready swing that had its nascent start in Bob Dinnigan’s Long Island garage, has now made several trips to the Children’s Hospital in Miami to great applause and even greater demand.
“Last year, one of the little girls asked us if we could take the swing to her camp in Ohio,” Moran says.
Not exactly sure how that might work, Benson stepped up once again — saying, “Well, I’ll just build another swing.”
With the steel fabricator true to his word, Local 361 then reached out to a group of Local 17 ironworkers in Cleveland, who immediately agreed to assemble the wheelchair swing at Ohio’s Fresh Air Camp.
“They just couldn’t do enough for us,” Moran says. “The kids are having such a great time.”
The brightly powder-coated wheelchair swing is still there, helping even more kids successfully reclaim pieces of their childhoods.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple more of them,” Dinnigan admits. “I can definitely see it going to other places.”
Moran says that the blueprints for the wheelchair swing are available to anyone who asks for them.