The Press Newspaper
In the 28 years I’ve worked at The Press I’ve written more than 1,000 columns and interviewed a few thousand people. My favorite columns are the ones in which someone finds the courage, passion or determination to overcome an unexpected challenge, such as the 74-year-old grandmother who turned detective to help solve her daughter’s murder, or the young Polish-American boy who outran the Nazis.
I’ve written a couple hundred of these columns about your neighbors and friends, common people who have faced uncommon challenges and I’ve picked 50 of them to reprint in a book aptly titled Common People, Uncommon Challenges.
The people in these 50 stories are young and old, male and female. Their accomplishments are not for the history books; they are personal. But, their courage, passion, and determination can inspire us to reach beyond comfort and expectation to achieve what is important to each of us as we write our own personal histories.
Take Jodi Harrington, for example. The Oregon woman walked nearly 5,000 miles across America to raise funds for a friend afflicted with a rare disease. The sight of her pushing a baby carriage through the Nevada desert stopped traffic, what little traffic there was.
Some in these pages have fought inner animals, or in the case of two men, bears who attacked them. Some have fought the system with spunk and righteous anger, and prevailed.
Others have put family first, like Duane Rutkowski, the Licensed Practical Nurse, who, after his wife died at age 37 from an aneurism, continued to provide a home for four special-needs children while working full-time.
Some have been wronged and fought back, like Lawrence and Rita Helle, the cabbage farmer and his wife, who came a step away from the Ohio Supreme Court in their pro se case seeking compensation from a state that took their farm for Maumee Bay State Park.
Some have changed their lives, like Jeff Nelson, the man, who at age 37 quit a three-pack a day cigarette habit, lost 87 pounds, left his job, went back to college and married his high-school sweetheart.
There are times in life when we struggle to meet these common challenges--quitting smoking, losing weight or paying down debt. But, it is in meeting these challenges we prepare ourselves to overcome the more difficult ones we will inevitably face in our lives. This is how Jeff Nelson saw his challenges: “Those little victories all built up to where I could look in the past and say, `Well, I did all this. I stopped smoking. I lost weight. And, I know things don’t just get done by sitting around wishing things will get done.”
Jeff Nelson inspires us by overcoming common challenges we all face. But, I’ve also included columns about local heroes who have overcome challenges none of us want to face. Like Myron Wagoner, the 82-year-old Northwood man, who, when confronted by an armed robber, beat him back with the 16-inch rod he used to hold up his car’s tailgate. Or, Dr. John Wukie, the hunter who moments after surviving an attack by a grizzly bear, had the presence of mind to fell the bull elk he was stalking.
Cliff and Bernice Miller of Elmore faced a different challenge. The two senior citizens, who met at the Cleveland Clinic while recuperating from hip surgeries, loved to travel. They were determine not to let anything stop them even though Bernice had both legs amputated below the knee, and Cliff was recuperating from his ninth hip operation. So, they packed up their crutches and walkers and strapped their motorized carts to the front and back bumpers of their 1968 Mercury with 393,000 miles on it and hit the road. Again.
We all experience significant emotional events in our lives—those moments when adrenalin meets crisis and we are forced to make a choice—live with the situation or change it. The people in these 50 stories found the courage to change their situation. You can, too. I hope these stories will inspire you on your journey and help you overcome the inevitable challenges you will face.
Mother has hope for normal life for autistic son
Amy Romstadt recently recalled her son’s disturbing behavior between the ages 18 months to four. She took him to physicians and specialists. The eventual diagnosis hung like a death sentence to a normal life—Derek had Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, a high-functioning form of autism similar to Asperger’s Syndrome.
This “greaser” isn’t driving a secret high-mileage concept car. She’s driving a 1981 Mercedes Benz 240 D. It gets 22 miles per gallon powered by her fuel of choice—waste vegetable oil.
The 23-year-old Ohio State University graduate is 2,000 miles into her trip to promote alternative fuels. She is in Houston, Texas this weekend recovering from a few days stay in New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras.
The assault was the result of a combination of two factors. Benavidez had just discovered his wife was having an affair, and he says the drug he was taking for depression and anxiety made him “mean.”
The incident occurred on August 24, 2006 when Toledo Police responded to a call about a suicidal man threatening to kill another man.
“I wasn’t depressed. I was angry. I was on medication and it turned on me. It made me mean. I’m not a mean person. I’ve never been a mean person and three weeks after this medication I’m clawing at the wood,” he said.
She’s pushing a baby stroller given to her by a “trail angel.” In it, Jodi has five gallons of water, her tent, sleeping bag, laptop, books, canned goods and mustard.
Pushing the stroller beats carrying a 25-pound backpack. Or, digging up the water she buried on her recon trip last year.
If he didn’t crash the car, doctors might not have discovered the tumor on his brain.
Some say, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
This could be one of those ways.
The Majority Leader of the Ohio Senate was a likely choice to run for United States Representative when fellow Republican Paul Gillmor died in September. But, Gardner said he wouldn’t run because of family obligations and he believes he can accomplish more in state government.
Tim Greenwood of Sylvania made the same choice is 1995 when he walked away after six years in the Ohio House and one in the Ohio Senate. Unlike some politicians who spout off about family values while sabotaging their own family, these two have put family first.
On that trip in 1994 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Tillie heard stories her husband never found the voice to share with her during 49 years of marriage.
Earl Geoffrion remained silent for the same reason so many other veterans keep silent. The depravity and brutality a soldier witnesses is better buried deep in the subconscious.
Johnny simply wanted to see how the heart works. He was one of 10 Boy Scouts on a field trip to Toledo Hospital to earn a medical merit badge. When Tiffany Johnson, the medical technician, asked for a volunteer to undergo an echocardiogram, Johnny raised his hand. The Perrysburg eighth-grader had always been fascinated with medicine. It’s a family passion. His father is the administrator for the surgical services division of Toledo Hospital and his sister is studying medicine at The Medical University of Ohio.
He wanted to walk his dog, pay bills, go grocery shopping and fight for a cause.
Unfortunately, the cause Dan chose was a losing one—the legalization of marijuana for medical use.
Dan was uniquely qualified for this fight. He was a quadriplegic who used marijuana to quell the pain in his legs and control violent spasms that more than once rocketed him out of his wheelchair. Pot did for Dan what prescription drugs did not. It also brought him into the public eye and led to a felony conviction
At various times over the last 30 years, Dan has lived with irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, facial numbness, joint pain, neck pain, fatigue and “brain fog,” a condition in which he mentally wasn’t in the moment.
From age 10 to age 40, he was misdiagnosed by doctors confounded by symptoms that mimic Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, chronic fatigue, Fibromyalgia and Attention Deficit Disorder. In fact, his disease has been called “the great imitator.”
The score read Central 134; Waite 13.
Manny told his girls, “You will never, ever get beat this bad again, anywhere. If you can survive this, you will survive anything.”
That was the 1998-99 season. Manny was 30, a young man with dreams; Waite was a school players left. Some chose Catholic schools and, in that first season, his only six-footer fled to Whitmer.
The team finished 1-18. Central wasn’t the only thumper. Waite was thrashed by Scott 105-29, Ottawa Hills 79-18 and Sylvania Southview 82-31.
Fast forward eight years: Waite just won its second straight City League title and upset undefeated Southview in the state tournament to finish 20-4. But, Manny’s not surprised. In those early dark hours, he knew the sun would rise the next day.
It’s a 40-year tradition of faith and family. First church, then dinner. A chance to share love and laughter uninterrupted by the stresses of day to day living.
A softball doubleheader may be just cause to cancel dinner.
Or, maybe, a kidney transplant.
Ask Dennis if he’s a happy man?
“I’m one damn happy camper,” he said a few weeks after his settlement with DaimlerChrysler over their three-year battle for the name Rubicon.
The parties can’t disclose the terms of the settlement and Elaine Lutz, spokesperson for the company, will only say that DaimlerChrysler now is sole owner of the Rubicon trademark.
It was one right choice in a life of wrong choices. Choices that spiraled into a tailspin when she lost custody of her first daughter and, in despair, went from drug user to addict.
Three years of addiction led to the unplanned birth of a son and a felony drug conviction. She was 34 and single with no prospects of a career, a stable family or a better life for her new son.
She was a user.
That was a mistake.
Kenny Hetrick admits that now as he looks at the stitches and scabs on his forearm, the puncture wounds on his back and the tattered Carhartt winter coat that may have saved his life.
Kenny had just finished his day as a police officer in the Village of Walbridge on the cold afternoon of January 22 when he entered the grizzly cage with a bucket of water. He flipped a Halls cough drop to Cody, his 700-pound male grizzly, put the water down and walked the cage picking up debris. The work was routine for this man who has raised tigers, lions and bears for 30 years at his home near Stony Ridge. So routine Kenny didn’t think twice about grabbing the deer carcass laying half in the box that served as the den for Cody and his female partner Jazz.
Meanwhile, here in Millbury, the woman who gave him that second chance observes a darker anniversary.
On February 5th, Ray and Karole Shivak will be preoccupied with the 20th anniversary of the death of their son Tod. This year is more poignant than others because Tod has been deceased longer than he was alive. That has Karole reliving a cold winter day in 1984 when Tod, 19, fell from a ladder while working on a demolition crew at the Gulf Oil Refinery in East Toledo. Tod died two days later.
In the midst of that tragedy, Karole found a small comfort. She gave doctors at St. Charles Hospital permission to remove Tod’s heart, kidneys and corneas. The heart, the first donated from Northwest Ohio, was shipped to Pittsburgh and transplanted to a 50-year-old father of three.
But, it didn’t and she won’t.
So, Mrs. Feckley is telling a story she’s bottled inside for eight years. It is a story that drove this 74-year-old grandmother to solve her daughter’s murder when police in two states couldn’t and it is a story that still consumes her every waking moment. By telling it, she hopes to squelch her anguish and anger and shine a light on those who chose not to investigate her daughter’s murder with due diligence.
Albert’s likeness has been immortalized as the Civil War soldier who vigilantly stands on the restored monument at Willow Cemetery in Oregon. But, how that happened is a tale from The Twilight Zone.
Flashback to 1985 when Jeff Eversman chanced upon a photo of the Soldiers’ Memorial. The photo depicts a Union soldier on top of a granite base, a soldier Eversman believes rusted to its demise around 1920. So, Eversman bought the photo, stashed it, and forgot about it.
Fast forward to May of 2000. Eversman, who had acquired an interest in his Civil War ancestors, volunteered to maintain the graves of 25 Union soldiers at Willow Cemetery. While sitting at the base of the monument and weeding and watering the grass he was overcome with emotion.
In the best of times, she’s traveled to Jamaica, Italy and Japan. Now, in the worst of times, Sgt. Moore is in SWA, a military acronym for Southwest Asia, more specifically Afghanistan or a neighboring country.
The Curtice resident is a 17-year veteran of the National Guard, a member of the 200th Red Horse Squadron, based at Camp Perry. Her civil engineering unit builds airport runways and facilities. Sgt. Moore works in material management supplying equipment and clothing to the troops. She’s dedicated to the work, although naturally apprehensive. She says, “At first I was nervous and scared. You don’t know where you’re going. They don’t tell you anything. But, I took an oath when I joined and I’m honor bound to do what I said I would do. Now’s not the time to cry I want out. I signed a contract for better or worse. This just happens to be worse.”
Worse, as in leaving behind her son CJ, 11, daughter Angela, 8, and husband, David.
Rob lost that future when he took LSD on New Year’s Eve in 1983. He blames his friends for giving him the drug and for a car accident that left Rob permanently brain damaged.
Rob spent the next 10 years relearning his motor skills. How to eat. How to walk. How to communicate. Today, at age 37, he can walk short distances but mainly relies on a wheelchair or walker. His arms and hands are misshapen. He drools. And, he communicates with a computer-like device.
To look at him, you wouldn’t know Rob was a two-time state wrestling champ who says he had a full scholarship to West Point. But, look inside Rob and you see he wrestles life with the same tenacity he displayed on the mats at Oak Harbor.
Rob’s newest challenge is telling his story in hopes he can influence teens to party responsibly. He’s presented his audio-visual program called “A Second Miracle” to more than 2,500 students across Ohio in the last two years.
She was mesmerized by the rushing water crashing on the shards of rock 100-feet below. No one else was at the nature preserve. No one to interrupt her debate with herself.
That debate, on the one-year anniversary of the death of her premature son, centered on this question—If she committed suicide would she go to heaven and see David again. Or, would she find herself elsewhere, still separated, still feeling the agonizing pain she had borne for a year?
Mitchell Garwolinski, 69, has run more than 78 marathons. He averages 40 races a year and 65 to 70 miles a week. This love was bred through necessity. As an American citizen growing up in Poland before World War II, Mitchell, 7, watched in horror as the Nazis sent his father to one labor camp, his mother and brother to another and Mitchell yet to another. At age 10, Mitchell was placed in the child experimental program. While he’s blocked much of the abuse from his mind, he remembers being strapped to the bed and administered numerous shots that, at times, made him catatonic. He suffers from nightmares and flashbacks and he can still hear the screams of other children.
She wrote in Jim Haley.
So did 2,966 other voters.
When it was done, James Haley had done what no other politician in an Ohio city had done—he’d won a mayoral election as a write-in. And, he won as an independent. By 936 votes.
The odds are against him.
That’s nothing new.
Nor, is it unusual from someone from East Toledo, a side of the city seen by outsiders as the home of filthy refineries, a brawling hockey team and tough streets.
John is the quintessential East Sider. He’s tough: he was a Golden Gloves boxing champ. He’s blue collar: he retired from LOF. And, he belongs to an ethnic minority.
He has one flaw, however. He’s Republican.
When they call roll, 29 answer.
All three are 76.
The average age is 72.
And, while you may expect them to be on a cruise at that age, they are not. They are the crew.
On this holy day, most soldiers want to be with their families. These veterans did too. But, a delay in Gibraltar to fix an engine put the crew 11 days behind schedule on its 4,600 nautical mile journey. If all goes well, Captain Robert Jornlin, 61, will dock the U.S.S. LST 325 at Mobile, Alabama January 6. That will end the improbable odyssey of a group of veterans who have realized their dream to restore an historic LST ship and bring it back to the United States.
Pinned under the car, no feeling from the neck down, Dan wasn’t going anywhere that night either.
Hours before, he had finished his shift at Guardian Industries, helped a friend with a home project, drank a shot of Jack Daniels and shot a few games of pool.
In that instant, at age 23, Dan Wilkins broke his neck and lost the use of his legs.
Today, 20 years later, Dan’s a well-known disability rights advocate. One of his products hangs in The Smithsonian. He’s dined at Vice-president Al Gore’s home. He’s in demand as a motivational speaker. And, he’s an entrepreneur who has capitalized on his self-effacing, morbid humor.
At first blush, Wolf lost. The 91-car freight train dinged his door and fender. Ron was also cited.
How could he win?
The Chevy Nova weighed one ton; the freight train 6,700 tons.
As Richard opened the door of his wife’s Cutlass, a head popped up from behind his son’s Probe. He thought, “What’s my son doing out here at 4:30 in the morning.” Then he noticed the tarp pulled back on his other son’s 1964 Chevy Impala. The mag wheels missing. The tool box opened.
Unusual, he thought. Joe was proud of his classic car, careful with his tools.
The wind swirled around him. The wind-chill would hit minus 25 that night. The darkness was so thick Richard couldn’t see the facial features of the man standing in front of him, but suddenly he knew it wasn’t his son.
He yelled, “Get the hell out of my yard, right now.”
Three other heads popped up. The tallest one had a gun. He fired. The bullet hit the driver’s door. Richard stood a foot away.
Call her Anonymous. But, don’t call her. Number’s unlisted. Address unknown, but to a few. She lives with a couple of pets. Surrounded by an alarm system.
At age 90, there’s a reason.
“I’ve helped put over 60 murderers away. They’ve all got friends. They’ve got relatives Yes. I have to run a very low pro¬file,” she said over the phone. “I have an alarm system but I still don’t feel safe. The police want me to make sure nobody follows me home. And, I sel¬dom go out after dark. It’s pretty tough. It’s unfortunate—that’s the way it has to be.”
“I remember curling up in a ball on the sofa one night and thinking, ’I’m afraid to live and I’m afraid to die. There’s no answer.’
“My all-time biggest fear was I would totally lose my mind and be locked up in the state mental hospital in Toledo, Ohio and someone would throw away the key and I wouldn’t even know who I was.
“I knew I couldn’t live like that. I remember asking God to show me one person who lived with this that didn’t lose his mind or die and I’d help Him for the rest of my life,” she recalled from her new home in Southern California where she lives with husband David Bassett and their two children.
The next morning, Lucinda inexplicably watched television as she got ready for work. The talk show featured a woman with agoraphobia, a fear of being in public places. Serendipity had now given Lucinda a name for her condition.
Thou shall not scam the church, Pastor says
The Ottawa County village has two churches, one business, no crossroads, 20 or so homes, 74 people and one less sleaze ball hitting on the Methodists.
Not much has happened in Elliston since they built the Zion United Methodist Church in 1861 to serve a sawmill town bustling with loggers clearing the great forests. At least not until Rev. Jerry Cole helped bring down an alleged crook whose annual take from thousands of churches and organizations in 31 states was nearly $1 million.
When Hi Tronics Inc. of Harvey, Illinois sent an unordered box of 100 percent pure perfumed bowl blocks to freshen the urinals, the company probably figured someone would pay the invoice for $118.05, no questions asked.
If you don’t know anything about 100 percent pure perfumed bowl blocks, you wouldn’t know you can buy the same box at an east side supplier for $7.00.
Talk on the trail centered around elk and grizzly.
They were sure to see elk, said Dr. Wukie, the Sandusky County Coroner. Three years ago, he took home a 600-pound bull with a 5x5 rack. Grizzly, he had never seen and this was his fifth trip out west.
Grizzly, however, is what they talked about and, naturally, Dr. Wukie retold his story about “Old Groaner.”
Old Groaner was a legend Dr. Wukie read about in a museum in Ketchikan, Alaska during his honeymoon more than 10 years ago.
The bear’s massive skull was punctured with several bullet holes. Legend had it the wounded bear roamed the forest around Ketchikan killing and eating those unfortunate enough to cross its path.
The memory of those bullet holes in that thick skull stuck with Wukie over the years.
“You can’t believe what a grizzly can take,” he said to four fellow hunters as they rode past mining debris left long ago by gold miners.
She asked for it in Braille.
Imagine that. A poor girl asking for something her mother, Judy, a housekeeper, couldn’t buy in her dreams.
Something only Santa could deliver. But, at 8, Jenny Thompson from Curtice still believed. So, she wrote a letter that principal Henry Wood posted in the hallway and sent to a daily newspaper.
He’s climbed Kilimanjaro, been buried alive in a sandstorm and kayaked the Nile, the first man to paddle all 4,160 miles of the world’s longest river.
Goddard recalls that last adventure, one that took a million paddle strokes.
“We paddled through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt being charged by elephant, rhino and hippo. We capsized in rapids and were shot at by 30 Egyptian river pirates. We were put in prison twice as spies.
“I came down with malaria, dysentery, tapeworm and a terrible blood disease. I lost 28 pounds.”
The nationally-known explorer-anthropologist recently spent a night at a friend’s Oregon home after presenting programs for the schools and the World Wide Church of God.
His eyes were red. His pulse rapid. And, although he fought for breath on a Spring night at age 37, he drew the smoke deep into his lungs.
At the time, it was just another night. He didn’t think the man looking back at him would change so dramatically so soon.
In less than three years, he would quit a three-pack-a-day, 17-year habit, lose 87 pounds, change jobs, go back to college and marry his college sweetheart from long ago.
On that night in 1988, however, change was not on Nelson’s mind.
“I remember thinking I could hardly breathe and yet I lit up a cigarette. It was one of the lowest points in my life for my self-image.
Not sparing rod foils robbery attempt
He had a 16-inch steel rod the thickness of a pencil in his hand and the Twenty-third Psalm in his pocket.
The would-be robber was young, strong, and he had a gun.
But armed with his rod and his words Myron Wagoner won the battle. The robber fled.
Not bad for an 82-year-old man.
The one that didn’t, Gary, 38, died in a car accident.
According to the coroner’s office, Gary’s car went off the road in the 1900 block of Eastgate and hit a utility pole. Gary was electrocuted when a power line hit him as he was leaving the vehicle. He was burned beyond recognition.
The coroner’s office said a blown tire may have caused the accident. A spokesman said Gary had a .23 blood alcohol level. That’s more than twice the legal limit.
Shortly before Gary left his friends at Meadowbrook Hall, Ron was drinking at The Distillery, a bar just around the corner from where Gary was drinking.
Mike is a 21-year-old carpenter who led a drive to keep the bells tolling at Holy Rosary Church in East Toledo.
Mike raised $12,000 in less than three months from residents in his modest Birmingham neighborhood and from former parishioners as far away as California.
Some would call that a miracle. Especially when you consider he raised it for a carillon, a digital bell system that plays 384 songs, anything from the Angelus to the Star Wars theme.
Next week, Cliff, 77, will hobble on his crutches out to his 1968 Mercury. He’ll strap his motorized cart on the front fender, his wife’s cart on the rear fender and hitch the car Cliff has driven 393,000 miles to their 27-foot camper. A car, by the way, he intends to drive another 393,000 miles.
When the job’s done, Bernice, 82, will come to meet him, shuffling her artificial feet under her new aluminum walker. Together, they’ll wave goodbye to their Elmore friends and head west.
While Cliff and Bernice Miller will take with them their carts and crutches, they’ll leave behind their disabilities. They don’t take those anywhere.
You can order Common People, Uncommon Challenges by sending $15, plus $3 for shipping and handling to The Press, Box 169-J, Millbury, OH 43447 or by calling 419-836-2221.
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