One of my favorite gifts to myself is reviewing the year by checking in with some of the gracious subjects of my columns. In a year that we likely agree was surreal at best and violent at worst, it’s a relief to be reminded of the many good-hearted people working quietly and diligently to lighten the load for others. Here are a few updates.
The women of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) received an outpouring of support nationwide after sharing their heart-wrenching stories about being forced to give up their babies as young single women. Louise Gardner’s 93-year-old father made copies of the column “and included it as a Christmas love story inside his own personally-made Christmas cards.” Pat Glisky reports that a birth mother attended her first CUB meeting (cubirthparents.org/twin_cities.php) after reading the piece, buoyed to learn about other mothers like her. The women of CUB continue to work on a long overdue law change that would open adopted children’s birth records.
After featuring the rock star women of Dunwoody’s Women in Technical Careers (WITC), numerous donors stepped up, including one with a scholarship check for $50,000 to support female students majoring in technical fields, where they are greatly underrepresented. (Gratitude emoji here!) Several of the women graduating in 2017 have secured paid internships or jobs, but WITC (dunwoody.edu/women) always is eager to hear from potential employers. The fall 2017 class soon will be announced.
Michael Thomas, chairman of Minnesota Alimony Reform Inc., calls 2016 “an incredible journey into reforming alimony law.” Since Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Cohabitation Alimony Reform bill in August, (mnalimonyreform.com), a number of parties cohabiting while one of them receives spousal maintenance have settled with the payer spouse, instead of going to court, he said. Less encouraging, Thomas is frustrated by “court setbacks where some judges have not really followed the intent of the law.” He acknowledges that the law needs refining, something he and others will address in the coming legislative session. He continues to “press for the right to retire and removing lifetime alimony from the books. I am optimistic,” Thomas said, “that obligees and obligors of alimony really do want to have finality to their divorces.”
A resort of his own
Kevin Johnson continues his two-year campaign to save the Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled, on behalf of “all our disabled loved ones,” and one person in particular: his buddy Kirk Williams, a U.S. Navy veteran who has multiple sclerosis. Johnson, Williams and Johnson’s wife, Lorie, enjoyed summers at the 6.8-acre Canadian resort for years, until it was abruptly shut down in 2015. Johnson has worked tirelessly to get the resort up and running again. He created a Facebook campaign, has written impassioned editorials and collected more than 29,000 signatures on a change.org petition to get the Ontario government to permanently protect the resort for use by citizens with disabilities. “Kirk is as deeply committed to this as I am,” said Johnson, who feels great urgency now. Williams’ health is rapidly declining. “It occurred to me,” Johnson said, “that I may not be able to ever give him the news that our efforts to save Wilderness Discovery were successful.”
Walking the talk
Bill Martin, he of the goofy hats and superhero costumes, still takes his daily walks in southwest Minneapolis for exercise, of course, but mostly to remind the stressed-out, overworked populace to look up and smile. “The only time I don’t walk outside is when it’s bitter cold,” said Martin, 74. On those days, look for the 6-foot-1 man in an XL Batman suit walking inside the mall. Martin has added a Christmas tree and a Santa Claus hat to his current repertoire. “The kids just love it,” he said. “They’ll come up and give me a hug. It’s been wonderful. They’ll have to put me in the grave before I quit walking.”
A world-class peacekeeper
Hanadi Chehabeddine, a mother, journalist and devout Muslim, continues her outreach as a volunteer speaker with the educational nonprofit Islamic Resource Group (irgmn.org). In May, she was honored with a human rights award from the Eden Prairie City Council. It’s been an invigorating year. “I see people wanting to know more about Islam and asking questions,” she said. “I see efforts to invest in communities and create collaborative initiatives. I see people standing up for minorities and minorities organizing themselves. This gives me hope, and courage to keep doing what I am doing.”
Still seeking Hammy
Hannah Kiresuk never did find Hammy the Cow, the stuffed animal the young woman has owned and cherished since creating him at a State Fair Build-a-Bear workshop more than 10 years ago. Before he was lost in late February, possibly in the Minneapolis skyway between Target Center and Mayo Square, he had been with Hannah, who has myasthenia gravis, through 300 days in the hospital, 30 surgeries and countless doctor appointments. But all was not lost, reported mom, Teri Kiresuk. During treatment at the University of California-San Diego, the staff gave Hannah a small cow named “Diego.” In addition, she was invited to a Timberwolves pregame warmup where guard Tyus Jones presented her with a stuffed wolf wearing Andrew Wiggins’ No. 22 jersey. Hannah named him “Wiggy.” And the ICU staff at Children’s Hospital and Clinics in Minneapolis gave her materials to create “Babbs the Bear,” who now attends all of her appointments with her. Hannah will be evaluated in January for a bone-marrow transplant trial (cotaforhannahk.com). “It is amazing to us how many people in the community, at medical appointments and on social media, recognized Hannah and her story,” Teri said. “We still get asked if Hammy ever made it home.”
A seeker branches out
Information-magnet Morgan Mercer started 2016 picking the brains of a mind-boggling array of fascinating folks over coffee. Her genuine curiosity has led her to bolder venues since. She attended MisfitCon, swam with dolphins in Bimini and attended a Hatch conference in Montana, all experiences that helped “refine and understand my purpose. I want to have a bigger positive influence in this world than I’m having now.”
Keeping drugs safe
Kim Witczak continues her work to assure that prescription drugs are safe and used appropriately. In 2003, her husband, Tim, was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft, off-label, for insomnia. Five weeks later, he was dead from suicide. In November, she presented at a two-day FDA hearing on off-label marketing, and has spoken before the FDA Advisory Committee regarding the troubling recent removal of a black box warning on the smoking-cessation drug Chantix. “This is the first time the FDA has ever reversed a black box warning from a drug,” Witczak said. “I fear antidepressants may be next.” In 2017, she said, “all eyes will be on the FDA.” Her eyes will be on the FDA, too.