How about a lift? A few uplifting stories from the past year

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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There’s a lot of bad news in the world, and even in Wise County many of the day-to-day headlines involve fires, wrecks, murder and mayhem.

But over the course of a year, a surprising number of stories highlight heroism and humanity, triumph over tragedy and comebacks from difficult circumstances. Here at Christmas, we’re happy to remind our readers of just a few of the stories that lifted our hearts in 2012.

Team coaches itself “Trials and Tribulations” – Feb. 29
“Emotional Finish” – March 7

The Decatur High School Mock Trial team continued the program’s success with a third-place finish at state – without a coach. Their coach, Susanne Parker, fell and fractured her skull last December, just as mock trial competitions began. With the help of a stand-in coach, graduated members, team veterans and the added inspiration in Parker, the team snagged the regional title en route to state competition – where 10 of the 13 teams Parker has coached appeared. The brain injury forced Parker to resign, and she had kept her distance from the team, until the state competition in March – the unofficial last day of her career, which Parker described as “perfect, though somewhat bittersweet end to her 33-year teaching career.

“Fortenberry inspired others beyond the classroom” – March 10

Even while battling cancer, Paradise teacher Terri Fortenberry served as a “Team Mom” for the girls her husband, Eddie, coached. After four bouts with the disease, Fortenberry died this March. “She never showed pain,” Bridgeport High School graduate Audra Hart recalled. “She still made us goodie bags, picture frames, snacks. She still insisted on hosting our team Christmas party, even though we knew she didn’t feel well. She cleaned the house, prepped the snacks and made little gifts for us like nothing was going on with her.” Teams held pink-outs in her honor, and those who attended her funeral wore red shoes because of her love for the “Wizard of Oz.”

STRENGTH – Randy Haire, now 19, of Alvord recovers from a traumatic brain injury after attempting to take his life in October of 2011. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Out of the darkness” – March 17

After a traumatic revelation menacingly reminiscent of a previous experience, then 18-year-old Randy Haire of Alvord attempted to take his life in October of 2011. He survived, but he suffered a traumatic brain injury that regressed his mental development “to his infancy stage.” He’s had to learn everything from talking to walking and even eating. He’s undergone grueling therapy to help him walk and cope with the emotional distress. Over the summer, he began homeschooling in an attempt to complete his senior year and graduate.

“Price of sacrifice”- March 21
“Mission Accomplished: Fire benefit exceeds organizers’ goal to help local departments”- March 28

Local fire departments are mostly all comprised of only volunteers who leave their full-time jobs and families to lend a hand to a neighbor in need, be it a structure fire, smoke investigation, traffic accident, medical call, gas leak, chemical spill or even a pet rescue. There is a long list of expenses inherent to running any fire department – “outfitting” one firefighter costs $2,000. That does not include any equipment – radios, hoses, much less apparatus with six-digit price tags. Those expenses have increased annually with additional safety standards, and then there’s the wear and even depletion of resources after a taxing summer and prolonged drought last year.

A committee formed to plan a benefit fundraiser in March. The free barbecue dinner, silent and live auction, raffle, entertainment and sponsorships garnered $190,000, shattering an original goal of $150,000. Each of the 17 fire departments in the county received $11,000.

“God’s Own Garden” – June 23

When the drought of 2011 claimed a big pecan tree next to the parking lot at the Morris Memorial United Methodist Church in Chico, members decided to use the space and sunlight to put in a community garden. Beginning in March, they invested hundreds of hours of labor to create 68 raised-bed plots for gardeners in the community to lease at a low, low price. The church provides compost they make themselves and water they harvest from the roof of their fellowship hall. A portion of the produce will go to local food banks, but the garden will be used not only to grow vegetables, but also to teach children in the community how to plant seeds and raise crops. Meanwhile, the church’s goal is to teach everyone to depend on God to send the harvest. The garden was dedicated Oct. 9.

YOUNG STRENGTH – Zaiden Davis, 2, shows resilience in his battle with congenital heart disease. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Steep drops, long climbs; Alvord family rides emotional coaster as daughter deals with leukemia” – Sept. 26
“Carly comes home” – March 31
“Little warrior; 2-year-old battles congenital heart disease” – Feb. 29

Young warriors, and their equally heroic families, showed admirable resilience in their bouts with medical ailments – 5-year-old Katie Vance of Alvord, who has Down’s syndrome, kicked leukemia in June. Carly Berkley, now 4, of Bridgeport returned home in March after being in isolation for most of seven months at Cook Children’s Health Care Center in Fort Worth while being treated for medulloblastoma.

Zaiden Davis, who will turn 3 in January, prevails through treatments for VACTERL association, a condition that causes various birth defects. Each of the letters represents a different defect – Vertebral, Anal, Cardiac, Tracheoesophageal, Esophageal, Renal (kidney) and Limb. Although he’s been treated for a few other issues, his main battle is congenital heart disease.

RETURN STORY – Decatur High School senior Tyler Story returned to the football field in August after sustaining a serious knee injury in September of 2011. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Comeback Story: After injury nearly cost him his leg, senior fighting to return” – July 14

When Tyler Story suffered a horrific knee injury in September of 2011, it was not a certainty he would ever return to the football field. Doctors told him he might lose his leg – and the possibility he might play football again was never mentioned. But Story didn’t lose the leg, and he never lost hope, either, throughout a long and grueling rehabilitation process. In August, the DHS senior was cleared by his doctor to resume football activities, and slowly he was worked back into the lineup. A month later, after a year of rehabilitation, Story returned to the football field in September against Springtown.

PAINTING SMILES – Brian Bassham of Boyd filled the role of Santa and clown ally to perform with his mother, Carolyn, after his dad, Alvin, died in May. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Son steps in to revive clown act with mom” – Oct. 3

For 20 years, Alvin and Carolyn Bassham of Boyd spread joy to the young and old as Big Red-O and Shy Violet the clowns and Santa and Mrs. Claus during the holidays. In May, Alvin lost a 10-month battle with cancer. After the diagnosis in May 2011, Alvin wasn’t able to take on the disguises, and for a brief period after his passing, Carolyn thought her costumed days were over as well. But after missing the opportunity “to make others happy,” Carolyn devised an alter alias and braced herself for the challenge of a one-man show. That’s when the couple’s oldest son, Brian, stepped up and offered to join Carolyn. Oopsa Dazee and Okee Dokee performed their first gigs in late September, and in December, the duo posed as Santa and Mrs. Claus at banks and Christmas parties of local businesses. “The most difficult thing was people came up and told us they had pictures for all the years,” Carolyn said. “They thought my son was his dad. He looks so much like him, and with only his eyes showing, (many) were taken aback for a few minutes.”

“The House Love Built” – Nov. 17

Laura Blaylock of Decatur has been raising five children by herself since her husband, Stephen, lost his life in a car wreck 10 days before Christmas in 2008. But now, she’s raising them in a new home after members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where she is a member, took it upon themselves to see that she got a new home built. Builder Jeff Wawro did the job basically “at cost” with church member Ken Blankenfeld overseeing the project. The house went up last summer on a lot she’d bought in north Decatur, and in November the family moved in – after they and fellow church members spent a Saturday putting in the landscaping.

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