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Passing through one last time

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We enjoy telling your stories

By Greg Summers

On occasion, I’m a little jealous of W.B. Evans. This is one of those times.

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When it comes to looking back, “Mr. Bill,” as we call him in the newsroom  doesn’t have to pick and choose when looking for what stands out. Choosing the top features stories of the year is hard.

I went through 157 issues making a few notes and was stunned to recall the people, places, events and organizations that make a difference. 

To cull the list to 10 was almost impossible.    

It’s difficult not to include those like Frances Flock, the widow of the late Tim Flock, a NASCAR legend in the 1950s. Her husband’s contributions speak on their own and he will certainly be a worthy addition to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. “Mrs. Frances” already is. An ardent support of the hall, she has been instrumental behind the scenes in helping its staff compile the early history of the sport.  

What about the Elyse Rebecca Hardin Foundation and its Dress For Elyse fundraiser that funds two college scholarships by selling gently used formal prom gowns? 

Elyse, a 15-year-old Lancaster High School student, was killed in a December 2009 car crash. That foundation’s work is proof that something good can come from tragedy.

You can’t leave out Jeff Robinson, whose July 4 lights and Christmas lights on Flat Rock Road can’t be appreciated without seeing them firsthand.

Brandon Edwards has quite a pair of shoes to fill in taking over the day-to-day operations at Catawba Fish Camp for his granddad, Bobby. 

In early June, after more than three years of painstaking restoration work, Lancaster’s best-kept secret – the L&C Railway Luxury Car Shop – showed off the Pullman Sunbeam, a rail car used in the 1800s by Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln. The car was bought by the Hildene Museum in Manchester, Vt., which was the summertime home of Robert Todd Lincoln. 

In October, Tori Knight showed us girls can, and do, play football. Pat Willis reminded us the contributions of veterans such as pilot and test pilot Ira B. “Sonny” Jones III cannot be forgotten.    

Paring the list of the top features stories in 2011 from 30 to 10 was tough, but here’s the best of the best in no particular order. Much of it was based on feedback from readers. 

Here’s hoping that we have the chance to share more stories like this with you in the upcoming months. Happy New Year!

1. Sarah Kirkland

As soon as a police car showed up in her driveway at 3 a.m. and “Ms. Sarah” Kirkland heard a knock on the door of her Pleasant Hill home, she cut on the kitchen light. 

A foster mother for more than 26 years, Kirkland is responsible for providing a loving home to 122 kids sent her way. She retired in January 2011 and was honored with a surprise dinner by the Department of Social Services, the S.C. Foster Parent Association (SCFPA) and her family and friends.

Carl Brown, SCFPA executive director, said Kirkland’s role cannot be overlooked.

“When we do God’s work, all of God’s people must come together,” he said. “I don’t think there is any greater calling on our lives that raising our children as she has certainly done that. The greatest thing we can do is touch the lives of others.” 

Love and guidance, Kirkland said, have to come from the heart, especially for children who can’t help the situation they’ve been placed in. 

To her credit, many of those children still stop by to visit her and stay in touch. “If you don’t have God, you won’t ever treat them right. I’ve just always tried to raise each of them like they were my very own.”

2. Jody Miles

Just the mention of Jody Miles’ name evokes smiles. The co-founder of Christian Services now has a much brighter future after receiving a liver transplant in November 2010. 

Miles needed a liver transplant after contracting hepatitis C in the 1980s from a blood transfusion that permanently damaged the vital organ. Her family and friends helped raise more than $70,000 of the $500,000 needed for the procedure. 

Miles said making it back to good health sometimes makes her feel like the sole passenger who survives a devastating plane crash.

Miles has also regained the sense of humor God blessed her with. She grins every time she reads Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Miles said God is always on time.

“God is so good to me,” Miles said. “I feel like I owe him. You know, I think I might get that verse tattooed on my rear.”

3. Neal Brothers make news again

The Neal Brothers – W.C. Neal, Paul Neal, Dewey “Ace” Neal, Jack Neal, Frank Neal, Bruce Neal and Billy Neal – along with Larry Cauthen, were inducted into the local Boy Scout Hall of Fame in February 2011.

For many years, the Neal Brothers held a record few could match. Seven of the nine brothers attained the rank of Eagle Scout, a feat that drew national attention. Their exploits were featured in newspapers and magazines.

Billy said his parents, the late Winfield Dewey Neal and Nannie Estridge Neal, expected two things from him and his brothers. They were expected to graduate high school and become Eagle Scouts. Their lone sister, Nancy, was exempt from the second requirement.

“You learn things in scouting that they didn’t have time to teach you in school. Our father always said if you started something, you finished it,” Frank Neal said.

4. A different kind of church

In May, the members of Ridin’ the Frontline Biker Church on Bishopville Highway just outside of Kershaw broke ground on their own property. To outsiders, the dedication service could’ve easily be mistaken for a biker rally.

The church of five that started meeting in the yard of the Rev. Kenny “Cotton” and his wife, Shari, has grown into a congregation of 70-plus. 

“Ain’t God good?” Pate shouted as he threw his hands over his head like they were gripping at ape hanger handlebars. “I believe with all my heart God has his hand on this land and brought us here.” 

They won’t be praying on their knees each Sunday at Kershaw Shrine Club much longer. The growing congregation’s mission statement is “Where God loves you for what you are, not what you wear.”

But don’t be fooled by the bandannas, black leather vests and biker boots, said music leader John “Fatboy” Stein.       

“We are a by-the-book, Bible church in every way,” Stein said. “There ain’t a question in life that can’t be answered by that book. This is not traditional by  no means. This is for folks who feel uncomfortable in a traditional sense.”

5. Say cheesecake!

Great Falls residents and friends Barbara Lyles and Barbara Hilton found their own niche by starting their own business, “Ida Claire’s Creamy Southern-Style Cheesecakes.”

The whole idea started after Lyles made some cheesecakes for Hilton’s family, who were visiting during the Christmas holidays in 2010. 

Hilton, who didn’t even like cheesecake at the time, relented and tried a bite after her company raved about the taste. She called Lyles the next day and said, “We need to sell these.”

Several restaurants and specialty outlets in the state are now carrying the Ida Claire cheesecakes on their menus. 

“Ida Claire was perfect,” Hilton said. “Because when you taste this cheesecake you'll say, ‘Well, I declare, (Ida Claire) that’s the best cheesecake I ever ate.’”

6. Passing Uncle Sam along

When it came to who was going to take the late Harold Williams’ place as Uncle Sam in the annual July 4 parade in Charlesboro, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

His oldest grandson, 34-year-old Mitch “Little Mitch” Williams Jr., followed in the elder Williams’ footsteps by keeping Uncle Sam in the family.

A Korean War veteran, retired barber or an eight-year member of Kershaw Town Council, Harold Williams was a local Independence Day icon. However, Mitch said those who just knew Harold Williams as Uncle Sam only saw one facet of his life. 

“He was a very caring man who loved everybody,” Mitch said. “The only way I know to describe him is as a good grandfather and a great father. I want to raise my kids the same way he raised his children. I was blessed to have two great granddads who showed me that. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”   

7. Byrdic an overcomer

It’s not the landscaping at Chuck and Donna Byrdic’s Airport Road home that makes it special. 

It’s the story behind the  6-foot tall calla lilies, Indian hawthorn, purple sage, roses, hibiscus, day lilies and Asiatic lilies blooming there. That story stuck a chord with the Lancaster Council of Garden Clubs, who selected the Byrdics as Yard of the Month in September 2011.

After suffering a massive stroke that left him withlimited mobility, Chuck began caring for their lawn and plants to get through the difficult time he was experiencing.

He started slowly, but now enjoys working in the yard keeping the blooms fresh. Chuck plans and tends to the yard as relaxing therapy.  

“I just love being outside and taking care of the yard,” he said. “From plowing with the tractor that used to belong to my late father, to keeping the plants watered and trimmed, I enjoy it all.”

8. Franklin outlives the odds

High-flying J.T. Franklin was living the good life. As an electrical system designer, Franklin flew the country overseeing major construction project such as hospitals and judicial centers.  

But all of that changed in 2005 when Franklin learned he was suffering from hairy cell leukemia. A rare, slow-growing cancer, it gets its name because its abnormal cells look “hairy” under a microscope, fewer than 2,000 people in the world are diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia each year. Like others diagnosed with it, Franklin said he was given little hope of survival.

Two years later, additional testing showed that Franklin had 13 cancerous lumps in his throat. Then to make matters worse, in April 2009, while driving on Camp Creek Road, Franklin swerved to miss a deer and crashed head-on into a utility pole at an estimated 60 mph. 

That was followed by a massive heart attack on Sept. 4, 2009. Franklin’s health was so frail that he was told that he would never leave Carolinas Medical Center, but he did. Seven days later, Franklin walked out of the hospital with a pulse of 45, a damaged heart that was only 39 percent functional and a pacemaker.

Earlier this year, after Franklin was given six months to live, Franklin’s wife left him.

“I can’t say that I blame her for all that I had put her through,” he said. “You know, it’s gotta be rough living with somebody eat up with cancer who only has about a quarter of his heart, knowing he could die at any minute.”

There were lapses in memory and weight loss from chemotherapy that saw his weight fall from more than 200 pounds to 119 pounds. 

Despite seeing his backbone from the front side of his 6-foot-tall frame, Franklin never lost his faith.

“Dying is no problem for J.T.,” said the Rev. Bobby Joyner, minister of High Point Baptist Church, who baptized Franklin in February. 

“He knows where he is going,” Joyner said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody handle death the way he has. It’s been very uplifting for our entire church family.

Through faith, Franklin is still alive and was released from hospice care on Sept. 2. God, he said, has a reason for everything. 

There is no other way to explain it,” Franklin said. “The only thing I know to say is I’m the most blessed person on the face of the Earth.

“God sure is God, ain’t he? I’m still here,” he said, smiling

9. Hicks inspires others not to give up

Franklin isn’t the only one bravely fighting cancer. Registered nurse Jan Hicks, a case manager at Springs Memorial Hospital, just finished treatment for a second time.

In 1995, Hicks, a mother of two, learned she had breast cancer after discovering a small lump during a self-examination. Earlier this year, a routine mammogram showed a spot and she started treatment again. 

Hicks said faith, family and friends help in tough times. 

“People praying for you is what gets you through,” she said. “When you’re sitting there all alone in the middle of the night hurting and not feeling good, you know because of those prayers, God is right there with you. You can feel it.”

Hicks’ attitude has made her an inspiration, said SMH case management director Becky Lane.

“A good nurse has a solid faith,” Lane said. “You’re an extension of your faith, whether it’s being there when a crying baby draws its first breath or at the bedside when someone is facing death. Medicine is a science, but we know unless there is a healing grace on this side of heaven, there is  nothing we can do.”

10. Chaney puts pocket watch to good use

Since mysterious innkeeper Milt Chaney was publicly executed in 1856, his life has become a local legend.   

Court records show the bearded 36-year-old “giant of a man” and burly father of three was hanged for stealing a slave from the plantation of Dr. R.L Crawford and then selling the slave in Virginia as his own.       

But it’s what Chaney may have gotten away with that fueled local talk. Although it was never proven, many believed Chaney was a notorious serial killer who never got caught.

Chaney’s roadside inn was referred to as a “House of Horrors.” In many cases, travelers returning to North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia from Charleston or Camden ended up at his roadside tavern with their pockets full of cash from selling produce, cotton or livestock. 

Several of those travelers were never heard from again and when relatives of the missing guests traced their footsteps, they always ended at Chaney’s door, casting suspicion in him, although nothing was ever proved. 

Chaney proclaimed his innocence but the evidence was damning. After he was sentenced to death, Chaney didn’t sit around.

The June 20, 1856, edition of The Lancaster Ledger, turned up a fact no one knew about. Chaney’s pocket watch quit working for good reason.  He removed the mainspring from his pocket watch and used it to saw through the bars of his jail cell in a failed prison break. The Ledger reported Chaney sawed through them about a half-inch before he was caught.

“He may have succeeded if it wasn’t discovered,” the Ledger article said.    

Chaney was publicly hanged July 11, 1856, on a scaffold outside the Lancaster County Jail on Gay Street.

Cool and collected, Chaney spoke for almost 90 minutes before he was hanged. John W. Huntley of Chesterfield County, who witnessed the execution, wrote in his diary that Chaney made a long speech pertaining to his innocence and then uttered a long prayer for those who were hanging an innocent man.

“They hung him anyway,” Huntley wrote.

 

– Greg Summers is features editor of The Lancaster News.