Your touching stories made it a great 11 years
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
My eyes grab onto names and my heart performs a gymnastics routine as I scroll through The Spokesman-Review’s computer library, studying more than 11 years of Close to Home columns.
There are more than 1,700 stories about my neighbors – people on my block, in my town, an hour down the highway, a ride along a curly lake road. The number staggers me when I consider that most of those people left me in awe with their courage, strength, wisdom, humor, optimism, focus and, of course, luck.
A privilege to write
Close to Home was a privilege to write from its beginning to its last column today. By now its message should be clear: North Idaho is home to a never-ending supply of inspiring and fascinating people. That said, it’s time for me to venture into other areas of the news. I’m needed as a regular beat reporter. I’ll be covering health and social services.
But I can’t end the column without another look at some of the people who made me marvel, like U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bret Hyde in Post Falls. Bret was a star runner, husband and father with the heart of a champion and the class of a quiet hero. His story ran in 1999 after the Olympic Trials participant was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. To the day in 2001 he died at age 41, Bret used every breath to continue his life forward. Bret and his wife, Susan, set a high standard for strength, courage and love.
So did Mindy Hinshaw, a young Coeur d’Alene mother whose clear head and maturity won her crippled son a shot at life with two sturdy legs. Mindy’s son, Tyler Spearing, was born with a left femur so small that his knee began at his diaper’s hem. Doctors determined Tyler’s position in the womb had cut off circulation to his leg. Amputation was recommended, but Mindy rebelled. Tyler’s left foot was perfect.
Readers sent donations
Mindy found a specialist in Baltimore, Md., who could lengthen Tyler’s bone, but she didn’t have the money. Readers sent her more than $20,000 to help. The procedure’s early stages looked promising, so Mindy, 20, packed Tyler, 3, and all their belongings, left her family and support system and moved to Baltimore where they could qualify for the Medicaid they needed to finish Tyler’s treatment. Tyler walks on two feet now, thanks in part to North Idaho’s generosity.
Then there was Chuck Oare in Wolf Lodge who lost nearly all his eyesight at age 55 in an ATV crash and carried on with his life as comfortably as if he’d been born blind. And Joe Jonas, whose bronze sculptures warm and beautify North Idaho College’s cold walls. Diabetes threatened to still Joe’s artistic hands when his kidneys quit working and drained his spirit. But Joe, a Coeur d’Alene treasure, was saved with an organ donation, as were many other Panhandle neighbors.
So many people faced health disasters with unimaginable strength. Athol’s Charlie Weber lost his left leg in a construction accident and couldn’t wait until a prosthesis put him back on two feet. J.T. Taylor, who oversees Kootenai County’s Juvenile Detention Center, took control over his life after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis threw him into a tailspin. Using only his willpower, J.T. lost more than 150 pounds, pushed his MS into remission and plans to compete this year in Coeur d’Alene’s Iron Man Triathlon.
Then there were the people who taught me to push my limits – Carol Travis, who learned to swim at age 46 after a childhood water accident and went on to compete in Iron Man Coeur d’Alene; U.S. Air Force Capt. Fred McMurray, who survived six months as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam to return to Coeur d’Alene; and Jane Morgan, a teacher whose optimism, persistence and artistic skill turned dilapidated Borah Elementary into a neighborhood jewel. So many people who shared their stories belong on this list. Maybe I should consider a book.
It would include all those people who, for lack of a better description, make the world a better place – Marty Becker, the lovable veterinarian and pet advocate in Bonners Ferry; Lidwin Dirne, the heart and soul behind Coeur d’Alene’s Dirne Community Clinic for the poor and uninsured; Phil Colozzi, the wise-cracking, Philadelphia native who helped open Coeur d’Alene’s eyes to its homeless; and Michael Sowder, who bought land in Careywood as a home for hundreds of abandoned cats.
I couldn’t leave out Barb and Marty Mueller, the Hayden couple who designed 3-dimensional cameras that NASA sent into space; Sandpoint’s Elisabeth O’Meara, who dances with people confined to wheelchairs; Stephanie Kuck, who left Coeur d’Alene to help Iraqi women find their place in a post-Saddam government; or Barbara and Will Judge, St. Maries outfitters who voluntarily share their outdoor cooking skills each off-season with kids in juvenile detention.
Knowing those stories and so many more has strengthened me in weak moments and has deepened my love and appreciation for North Idaho. What an amazing place. What an incredible 11 years.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.