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Inaugural France humanitarian winner honored at 'Dega

May 06, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Hometown honors Weaver's humanitarian work with deaf and blind children

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- It was a chance encounter that led Robert Weaver to a life of service to the deaf and blind children of Alabama.

And it was for that life of service that Weaver, affectionately known as the "Ice Cream Man," was recognized Sunday before the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway as the 2011 recipient of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.

Weaver Way


Weeks before Talladega honored Robert Weaver prior to the Cup race, the city named a street in his honor.


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Honor their efforts


The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is looking for champions in our communities who represent the generosity of our sport.

In a span of nearly 50 years, Weaver has made more than 12,000 visits to the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and that estimate may be conservative.

Early in his career as a volunteer -- and it truly has been a career -- he started providing ice cream cones to the children there.

"I knew they had the best food in the world, but then I said, 'I wonder if they ever get ice cream served in a cone?' " Weaver explained. " So I tried it, and I loved it, and I've been scraping ice cream ever since."

But that's not how he connected with the school in the first place. Weaver had been active in sports and recreation in Talladega, and his reputation in that area prompted a visit from a representative of the school.

"The supervising teacher for the School for the Blind came into my shoe store and said, 'Mr. Weaver, I understand you know something about weightlifting; would you come to the school for the blind and help our physical ed teacher?' " Weaver recalls. "I had bought a cheap set of weights, I read two pages in the book and was working with three teenagers, and the phys ed teacher knew a thousand times more about that than I did.

"But I really believe an angel went to her and said, 'Get Robert Weaver to come to the School for the Blind.' And I went. They had a brand new bowling alley, and the PE teacher didn't know how to even keep score, so I taught bowling, and I've been back to the campuses thousands of times."

Weaver has given liberally of his own time and resources to improve the lives of deaf and blind children in Alabama, and he looks for nothing in return, though occasionally there's a huge emotional payoff.

"There was a young deaf boy who was about 12 years old," Weaver remembers fondly. "He had speech, but he was very, very hard of hearing. He was walking across the campus, and he felt a pain in his leg. He went to the school infirmary, and they discovered he had cancer in his leg, and it also had eaten the calcium in his bones and had gotten in his lung.

"He had to have a number of operations, and some way, somehow, I began to be one of them that would sit with him at the hospital. I took him to Washington, and we shook hands with President Reagan on national TV. I took him to the Grand Canyon, and we flew over that. And one day, on his own, he looked up to me and said, 'Mr. Weaver, I'm going to tell you what you've got. God has given you the biggest heart.' "

As the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award winner, Weaver received a Ford Edge and $100,000 used to established the Betty Jane France/Robert Weaver Endowment for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.

Weaver jokingly refers to himself as the "highest paid person at the school."

"Now I don't get my check paid to the order of Robert Weaver, like everybody else," he says. "My check comes by direct deposit -- direct to my heart."

Nominations are open through May 31 for the 2012 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. Visit NASCAR.com/Foundation for details.