Heart-warming stories of 2013

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, January 1, 2014

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Teacher of the Year

TEACHER OF THE YEAR – Lou Hitt, who was named Region XI Elementary Teacher of the Year this summer, was one of four elementary teachers in Decatur when she started in 1981. She is now one of 14 teachers at three elementary schools. Much has changed over the years – and she likes it that way. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Decatur’s Rann Elementary kindergarten teacher Lou Hitt was named the Region XI Elementary Teacher of the Year in August.

Hitt, who has spent her entire 33-year teaching career in Decatur, said it is the drive to learn new things along with her students that keeps her fresh and excited about each new school year.

Her classroom is like a family to her, and she’s now taught many of the children of her former kindergarten students.

Speaking on the eve of a new school year in August, Hitt said she realizes the large responsibility kindergarten teachers have in setting the tone for years of education to come.

“It’s my goal to make every day a positive day (so) they want to come back,” she said. “They’ve got 13 years of public school and four years of college, and I always set that before them. I don’t ever say ‘When you graduate high school ‘ it’s ‘When you graduate college.’ Put those goals in their minds right to begin with.”


Golden Boy

GOLDEN BOY – For 50 years Newark Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Edgemon has volunteered for the department, and led in response times many of those years. He was honored for his steadfast devotion at a banquet in March. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Newark Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Edgemon’s was honored for his 50 years of service to the department last March.

“Even at his age, he responds to more calls than anyone on the department,” said Newark Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Taylor. “And he’s been the top responder for the entire 15 years I’ve been here.”

Last year the Newark VFD received 573 calls. Edgemon responded to 527 of those. And last year the total volume of calls was more than 100 below average.

“He’s the first one on scene and the last one to stop working,” Taylor said. “He’s the one that shows up at 3 a.m. when no one else wants to go.”

At the wrecks and fires and medical emergencies he’s responded to over half-a-century he not only saved people involved, but also created a trickle-down effect that has pushed others to serve in the same capacity. Edgemon joined the department in 1963.


Rennie Matthews and his wife Dale journeyed to Decatur from the Caribbean island of Grenada as the year wound down, so that he could get a pacemaker implanted to shore up an ailing heart.

The 46-year-old, found out about Wise Regional Health System through Dr. Jason Finkelstein, who attended medical school on the island and now practices with Advanced Heart Care in Decatur. One of his partners, Dr. Trieu Ho, actually implanted the pacemaker.

It was all done at no cost – including the surgery, the device, hospital charges and several nights at the Candlewood Suites hotel near the hospital. The couple returned to the island last Saturday, but they hope to visit Decatur again one day – perhaps when the weather is a bit warmer.


Dog Days are Over

DOG DAYS ARE OVER – An unknown suspect or suspects left a six-month-old boxer for dead in a ditch along a highway in Newark. James Tucciarone found the dog with his back legs bound by a pair of pantyhose. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Last February a couple in Newark rescued a puppy they’d found tortured and abandoned on the side of the road near their home.

Someone had bound the puppy’s rear legs together tightly with the elastic waistband from a pair of pantyhose and dumped him into a ditch on the side of the road. The binding had caused one of the dog’s hind legs to become completely rotted by the time they found him.

Thanks to the efforts of Tabitha and James Tucciarone of Newark, and a giving community and Boat Club Road Animal Hospital, the six-month old brindle boxer was given a second chance at life. The dog’s back right leg had to be amputated, but the couple adopted the puppy, which they named “Ditch,” and gave him a permanent place in their home.


Emily Palmer’s story of dedication to her son and the power of her faith inspired several readers.

The Runaway Bay resident refused to abort her son, Clayton, and relied on her faith to see her through to his birth. Along the way, numerous things happened that defied doctors’ explanations.

Emily’s journey took her all the way to Baltimore for experimental and painful procedures, but she was back in Texas when she finally got to meet baby Clayton.

Although born a couple of months early, Emily and her family were able to spend several hours with Clayton before he passed away.

Emily said she was not angry at God, but rather she was thankful for the time she and her family did get to spend with her son.

Even after death, Emily and Clayton’s story continued to affect lives. Emily said people “gave their life to Jesus” at Clayton’s funeral.


Sculpting Crosses

SCULPTING CROSSES – “God did the hard work. He grew them. I only shaped them into a cross,” Mark Irland said as he transforms a cedar tree into a cross. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

For the last several years Mark Irland, of Sunset has created hundreds of cedar crosses for those dealing with the death of a loved one. Many have been used as roadside memorials.

Early in the morning of Aug. 12, 2010, his 28-year-old daughter, Meg Irland, was killed in an automobile accident on U.S. 380, just west of Bridgeport.

Since losing his daughter, Irland has built hundreds of crosses for people who have lost a loved one, or who are dealing with their own hardship.

“I do it for therapy and to hopefully help people get over the loss of a child, or the loss of anybody,” Irland said.

Roadside memorials, crosses reaching up from grassy bar ditches, let passersby know someone was killed there. He’s constructed many of them in complete anonymity, dropping them off silently for people who can take comfort in the sign of the cross. He’s transformed cedars, a tree many people pay him to remove, into signs of hope and memorial.

He’s delivered crosses to people in such far-flung places as Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska and even Connecticut where he made a cross for those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. It weighed 80 pounds and had the engraved names of all 26 children and adults who were killed. It was erected at the new elementary school.


Special Connection 1

SPECIAL CONNECTION – Three-year-old William Spiekerman invites his new friend Brenlie Barnes of Paradise to play. The young boy from Keller received the kidney of Brenlie’s mother, Ashlie Wright, who died of a brain clot in October 2011. In April, the donor family met the recipient’s family at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Ashlie Wright of Paradise died of a blood clot at age 22 in 2011. But her pledge as an organ donor – a sign of her giving nature, her family said – provided solace for her grieving family and a renewed go at life to spunky, lively William Spiekerman of Keller. The 3-year-old received Ashlie’s kidney. At a ceremony at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth in April, Ashlie’s family was able to see a part of their daugter, mother and sister alive.

Special Connection 2

SPECIAL CONNECTION – Arturo Martinez always kept a bag packed as he waited for the phone call that a donor kidney matching his blood type was available. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In June, Arturo Martinez of Decatur received a much anticipated call. After more than four years of waiting, the 23-year-old received a kidney transplant that liberated him from the confines of disease that limited his lifestyle and a dialysis machine that essentially kept him alive.

“I’m ready to start this new life and see where it takes me,” he said.


After “living in the shadows” for more than 20 years, many undocumented immigrants, including Claudia Bermudez and Elda Flores of Decatur, embraced the opportunities granted to them through deferred action. The program, which was put in place by President Barack Obama last summer, was devised to benefit young people who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children. Within month of receiving the necessary documents, Claudia applied and received her driver’s license. Elda enrolled in Weatherford College Wise County with hopes of earning a nursing degree. “I feel like this huge door just opened,” Claudia said. “(When I heard about deferred action), it was like a little light at the end of the tunnel. I just started bawling. I thought I would be living here in a shadow, not able to be me.”

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