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Passing through one more time

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Greg Summers reflects on his top moments of 2008

By Greg Summers

From a courthouse fire and the nastiest local political race I can recall in my life (the state Senate 16 seat), to hard times, lost jobs and $4 a gallon gas, no one can deny that we had our share of serious issues to deal with in 2008.

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But, we also saw circumstances that bring out the best in folks.

There’s Evelyn Springs’ fight to bring autism to the forefront and HOPE’s gutsy effort to keep the Ward Faulkenberry Memorial Christmas Basket Fund going. We should applaud the Lancaster Council of Garden Club’s in-your-face determination to decorate the burned-out courthouse for the holidays just like nothing ever happened.

We also had a little fun, too.

Here are my favorite memories from 2008 in no particular order. In choosing them, the only criteria I had was seeing them in person.

Best Performing Arts Series performance at USCL (March): The Atlanta Rhythm Section at Bundy Auditorium turned back the clock for me and friends Jimmy Addison, Ken Henry, Terry Marshall, Tom Moore, Mark “Green Horn” Starnes and Jono Rabley. We attended the University of South Carolina at Lancaster together from 1978-80.

I’m behaving myself, too. I have to; this crowd could surely share a story or two with my wife that I don’t want told. I see this as an unmentioned “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts. I won’t tell one on them if they won’t tell one on me, or at least, I’ll try not to.

Most unusual story (April): Retired kindergarten teacher and slave re-enactor Kitty Wilson-Evans receives the Robert E. Lee Service Award from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Lincoln Memorial University for her portrayal of “Old Ma” in the David Chaltas’ play, “Two Women: One War.”

“Kitty is a fantastic person – no, awesome is a better word to describe how she can go into character right before your very eyes,” said Lincoln Memorial University’s Carol Campbell. “She has an innate way to develop a kinship with an audience.”

The ability to do that is something that Wilson-Evans – who has portrayed Kessie at Brattonsville for 16 years – doesn’t quite understand herself.

“I don’t know,” Wilson-Evans said. “For me, it’s not acting or drama. It’s a part of me. I can remember the first time my mother saw me as Kessie, she said, ‘I know it’s you, but it’s not.’” 

Most inspirational (April): Breast cancer survivor Lorraine Earley, 88, lives each day with a tougher-than-nails attitude. Her first husband, Harold, died from complications of a stroke in 1981 after undergoing open heart surgery and having both legs amputated. She had her first mastectomy in 1988 and married her second husband, Everette, the following year. Everette died in 2004, and so did Earley’s daughter, Barbara. Then a mammogram in 2007 showed another tumor and doctors removed her other breast.

“I’ve learned if something happens to you in life you can’t do anything about, get it fixed and keep on going,” she said.

Through it all, Earley has never lost her positive attitude.

“You know, worrying just makes you worse off than you really are,” she said. “You just go down to the store, buy another prosthesis and go on about your business. I guess I’m just a tough, old knot.”

Best event (March): The donkey basketball game at Buford High School drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Buford High School gym. Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office deputies beat the Lancaster Speedway drivers, 12-8, but nobody cared. The packed crowd was laughing too hard to keep up with the score.

Best love story (March): “The Long Haul” chronicled the ups and downs of Jimmy and Joyce Hord’s marriage. A long-distance trucker, Jimmy Hord disappeared Nov. 5, 2006, after picking up a load of vans in Jacksonville, Fla. After a search of several states along I-10, Hord’s truck was found five days later parked in a truck stop about 10 miles west of Baton Rouge, La. He’d had a severe stroke that damaged 70 percent of his brain and had been alone in his truck for three days. The Hords lost their home and exhausted their savings to pay for Jimmy’s physical therapy and now live on fixed income. But Joyce stands by her man. She doesn’t dwell on the past, but looks to God.

“There was just something there,” she said. “I just saw something in him that I hadn’t seen in anyone else. I knew it.”

Biggest heart (June): Roy Cross and his wife, Lori, recently adopted their third special needs child from China. 

Roy said their decision to adopt each one of the girls was easy to make.

“These children came here and fit in because they were supposed to,” he said. “That’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s not about any of us, but how God wanted it to be. That’s what living life to the fullest is all about.”

Roy said his family doesn’t live in the biggest neighborhood in town and probably never will.

“That’s a choice we made,” he said. “We have a big family and, without a doubt, I’m the most blessed man in this world. I have it all.”     

Biggest celebrity (July): Kaitlyn Robertson became a national darling after a Catawba Fish Camp surveillance tape of the 4-year-old climbing in and then out of the Prize Time machine, loaded with stuffed animals and sports memorabilia, became an Internet rage, generating million of hits. Kaitlyn’s antics drew such a national stir that a television crew from “Inside Edition” came here and filmed a segment on her.

“I like the fish camp,” Kaitlyn said, grinning as she gobbled down a hush puppy. “It’s my favorite place.”

Biggest impact (a tie): The Big Thursday Golf Tournament (November) and the Lancaster Bassmasters Toy Drive (December).

The Big Thursday Golf Tournament debunks the notion that Clemson and USC supporters can’t agree on anything. The annual “war with golf clubs,” held each year prior to the football clash, benefits scholarship funds at Clemson and the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

The funds generated are specifically targeted for Lancaster County students. Since its inception in 2000, the tourney has raised more than $90,000 in academic scholarship money to support the two schools.

“All I have to do is show up and take abuse from a couple of die-hard Clemson guys for my golf game, or lack of one, and USCL benefits from it,” said USCL Dean John Catalano. “I can’t think of a better way to spend a day.”

For 21 years, the Bassmasters – with the help of the late John Hendrick’s family of Hendrick Motorsports – have made sure that Lancaster’s neediest families on Christian Services’ Angel Tree list celebrate the holidays.

Helping these families is what Christmas is all about, said Bassmasters member Ronnie Jenkins.

Jenkins said while every delivery is an emotional drain, it reminds these fishers of men just how blessed they are.

“It puts tears in your eyes,” he said. “After what I’ve seen doing this, I know if I was a millionaire, I wouldn’t have a penny.”

Best time (August): Spending the day with Ben Snipes and his mules at his 74-acre “Breaking Wind Farm.”

“If you get too close while they’re eating, that name will get a lot clearer for you,” Snipes said, laughing.

While mules have a reputation for being stubborn, lazy, cantankerous and just downright mean at times, Snipes said you can’t prove it by him. The animals have become his passion.

As soon as his pewter-colored Chevrolet pick-up pulls into the pasture, it is soon surrounded by mules of every size and shape in search of a taste from the 20-pound bag of apple and oat horse treats he keeps behind the front seat.

“They all have personalities,” Snipes said, as he scratched Thelma’s ears (Thelma and Louise were his first pair of mules).

“You don’t see horses running up to you like this. Everybody talks about them being mean and bad, but they’re not. They all want attention and want to get into the pictures,” he said.

Best local ambassador (December): Flex is a dachshund/sheltie mix “and 57 other varieties thrown together” dog that’s found a home among the constant hubbub of the L&C rail yard. If you have any doubts that Flex is L&C’s top dog, ask railroad president Steve Gedney to open his desk drawer. Amid the usual assortment of stationery, paper clips, pens and pocket change is an array of dog biscuits. The dog’s sweet disposition has become an asset at the L&C and he has the run of the place.

When groups of schoolchildren visit the L&C shop to get a good look at its workers’ craftsmanship, that’s not what they remember.

“They remember ‘the railroad puppy’ that greets them more than anything else,” Gedney said. “Flex has his own following.”