Goodbye, 2009. Not terribly sad to see you go.
This was the year of foreclosures and frauds (Madoff and Petters), the year Tiger got caught, Keillor got cranky and the balloon-brained Heenes got jailed. Talk about reality check. The war came home, horrifically, at Fort Hood, the health-care debate divided us, and we face even more stringent security checks in airports.
Many of these stories will continue into 2010. But I wanted to leave you with one quiet tale on this last day of the year. It's the story of you.
I assume that many of you lost jobs this year, or your home, health, savings, or hardest of all, a loved one. I'm guessing many of you still hold your breath about how things will unfold in the coming months.
Lousy year aside, you still took care of each other. I know this, because I play the role of a columnist, but on my best days, I'm just a conduit who makes sure your generosity, in words, deeds and cash, gets into the right hands. Here's a sampling of what you did this year.
"Fiero-head" Tyler Shipman, of Frazee, Minn., felt good enough on Nov. 22 to get behind the wheel of his fantastically rebuilt 1986 Fiero GT and take his dad, then other family members, for a spin. Tyler's story reverberated around the world, thanks largely to fellow Fiero owner Sgt. Andrew Weigle, of Pennsylvania, serving in Iraq, who was determined to help Tyler, 18, fulfill his dream of rebuilding his beloved car. Tyler, diagnosed with an aggressive cancer called Synovial Sarcoma, posted a plea on the Pennock's Fiero Forum under the heading, "Got cancer now and looking for help." Dozens of volunteers from across Minnesota and the country worked nonstop for 23 hours to restore the car to mint condition and install a new high-performance engine. Some readers donated $4,000 in parts and $3,000 in cash to help defray costs. On Dec. 23, members of the Minnesota National Guard Center in Detroit Lakes delivered to the Shipmans a U.S. flag -- sent to Minnesota by Weigle -- that had flown on a combat mission on a Blackhawk helicopter. "I may be in Iraq," Weigle wrote, "but Tyler has shown all of us what true courage is."
Two shoes on a bridge
Sometimes, kind words are comfort enough. Tom Hesdra was deeply touched by the outreach from readers in the dark days after his son, John Timothy Hesdra, 35, of St. Paul, jumped to his death in July. John Hesdra remained unidentified for a full week until Susan Lee, 24, discovered his shoes, and then his body on her bike ride home from work at the University of Minnesota. Lee's haunting photograph of Hesdra's shoes, tidily pointed toward the bridge railing before he jumped, is an image she, and we, will have a hard time dismissing from memory. Tom Hesdra said that while he cannot look at the photo without crying, he is thankful for the "sympathetic outreach from numerous people." His son, he wrote, was a graduate of Southern Illinois University with majors in psychology and math. "He was a quiet, shy, gentle giant, with a genius IQ, who couldn't quite find his way in society. You should also know," he wrote, "that he was loved deeply."
The superstar sub
Thank goodness for Neil Brackett, here to offer a little levity. Brackett, who stands 6-feet-7 with size 14 shoes, is a substitute teacher at St. Anthony Village High School and St. Anthony Middle School. But mainly, he's a rock star. Teachers love him, administrators love him, but mostly, kids love him for meeting them where they are (figuratively, not literally). One student was such a fan that he created a Facebook site titled "Mr. Brackett Wins At Life." Since the column ran, his Facebook fan site has almost doubled to nearly 700 fans.
We received more than 100 e-mails and calls on the story about Yang, an immigrant from Laos and mother of four in desperate straits who, nevertheless, returned a tax-credit check totaling more than $8,000 incorrectly sent to her. Readers have contributed furniture and nearly $6,000 to an account set up in the name of her daughter, Panhia Xiong, who has cerebral palsy. (Checks, payable to Panhia Xiong, can still be sent to Hiway Federal Credit Union, Attn: Benefit for Panhia Xiong, 111 Empire Dr., St. Paul, 55103-1899). Yang said she is saving the money in hopes of buying a handicapped-accessible van. She also said, through an interpreter, that she is incredibly thankful. "We are a very poor family and so, right now, I can't help others and repay what you all have done for me. But please know that I hope, in the future ... I will do anything I can to repay this kindness. I only wish I could see every person who helped me and thank them in person."
I'll do my best to help her here.
Readers: Thank you.
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