A soul-stirring email from Darla Jivan, a Copley woman I have yet to meet, led me to the Akron home of an extraordinary woman — poor, yes, but not in spirit, and a powerful sermon in the works. It’s the kind of sermon poet Edgar A. Guest wrote about many years ago in words that remain evergreen:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye is a better pupil, more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear. …
“I was introduced a few months back to an older woman named Joy who has been taking care of her 47-year-old son Phil for over 20 years,” Jivan wrote in an email to a fellow columnist, who forwarded it to me. “They are remarkable people. From what I understand, over 20 years ago [actually it was 1983] Phil was sitting on the side of a road and was struck by a motorcycle. He has been wheelchair bound ever since and can communicate in a unique way with others. He has been taken care of at the home since then. … They don’t ask for anything and they make it by with what little they have. …
“To the point, I was made aware of the need they have for reliable transportation about two months ago. The very old van they were using was having its oil changed by a neighbor here in Copley and he found the entire bottom of the van was rusted through. It’s amazing that Phil (who is about 225 pounds or so) didn’t fall through, wheelchair and all! Ever since then a group of friends and family has raised about $12,000 to buy a new reliable van. Isn’t that amazing! Now we are working on getting that van.”
“I am shaking as I type this, thinking that God has the perfect plan for these people and somehow this email may be part of it,” Jivan continued.
I was so intrigued by what Jivan wrote that I pressed for more information. She ultimately put me in touch with two members of the committee — Linda and Adolf Webel — in the project to put Joy and Phil back on the road.
Soon afterward, I met with Linda and Adolf, who arranged to join me at Joy Martter’s well-kept bungalow, which is government-subsidized. There I was treated to the rest of the story and the opportunity to meet Phil, who had just been dropped off following his job at United Disability Services (UDS).
The women have been best friends since childhood and now attend the same church — the 150-member Norton Apostolic Christian Church, which has four pastors. A committee from the church has been serving as the engine for the van project.
First a little more background as shared by Joy — a divorced mother of four children she raised alone.
“Yes, Phillip was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. He was sitting on the side of the road on his bike — Peck Road — watching two kids race, when one hit a sharp curve and crashed into him. That was 30 years ago. … The ambulance workers said they didn’t expect him to live, or if he did, he would be a vegetable. But God had other plans.
“Phillip had a brain injury, a broken femur, a compound fracture of the left hand, and he’s blind in the right eye. … He was in a coma for six months.” Joy quit her job and became a full-time caregiver two years later.
As we sat at the dining room table talking, Joy stroked her son’s hands, speaking for and to him. “Heaven has no wheelchairs,” she smiled and told him with authority.
Now back to the van.
After the temperature soared over the summer to 90 degrees, Adolf took Joy’s 17-year-old, full-size camper van with a wheelchair lift and 52,000 miles to a mechanic. “It had no air conditioning, and I was checking on getting it repaired,” he said. “The van was hot, and Phil is on medication. That’s when the mechanic told me it wasn’t safe for Phil. … It runs well, but it’s just rusted out underneath.”
“At that point we became frightened,” Linda Webel chimed in.
Since Joy was without transportation, a committee of concerned congregants made an appeal to help raise funds to replace her old van.
A monetary collection was taken, and other “Phil’s Wheels” outreaches (spaghetti luncheons and brownie sundaes served by the youth group) were launched, and quite successfully.
As fate would have it, a used Chevy van was located online in Clinton and a deal struck “with a gentleman who had been his son’s caregiver since he was 9 years old while his wife worked (outside the home). His son — who had a brain aneurysm — passed away in July. He was 21,” Linda volunteered. “The van is in good condition and with good tires. We’ve raised enough to buy it and get a couple of the maintenance repairs made.”
The new van — rather, the “temporary van” — is cranberry. Coincidentally, Phil’s favorite color is red, his mother noted, humble and grateful beyond words.
Adolf and Linda wanted me to know that Joy never asked for a replacement van, and that she’s uncomfortable in life’s receiving line. However, this was something the committee was moved to do. It’s payment in full for a valuable lesson she’s teaching others without even knowing it, Linda said. “And that’s how to live an exemplary life. That’s why I consider Joy my lifetime hero!”
By the way, Linda — no stranger to a caregiver’s journey herself — had a mentally challenged brother, Georgie. In fact, their pioneering mother, the late Dorothy Abraham, was instrumental in developing the workshop Phil now attends.
Somehow, some way Joy Martter — she with the perpetual “I think I can, I think I can” philosophy — has found a way to fill her home with not only the intangibles like love and faith, but also a few necessary tangibles like a dog, two cats, a fish tank and a few caged birds. Necessary, she insists, “because they help stimulate Phillip’s mind.”
The committee’s longer-term plan is to give the Chevy van to Joy until a new Ford Transit (Connect Commercial) van, which they acknowledge is costly to equip with a wheelchair lift, becomes available in 2015. This gives them more time to raise additional funds. Interested in helping? Please direct donations to the church with “Phil’s Wheels” on the memo line.
The Chevy then will be passed to someone waiting in the wings in the congregation with a similar need.
Shortly before filing this column, I learned that the replacement van was picked up (repairs and undercoating completed), and the church on Sunday surprised Phil during the lunch period by presenting him with the keys to his new wheels in celebration of his birthday, along with a sheet cake and prayers that his mother will continue to be strengthened as she continues traveling a road that’s far from easy, yet paved with its own rewards.
Thanks to a caller for reminding me to remind you, dear readers, if you find yourself (most especially in times like these) needing food to call Info Line Inc., (211 or 330-376-6660, a toll-free, 24-hour information and referral service) which can provide maps to all of the food pantries in Summit County. Just simply provide your ZIP code to locate the nearest food pantry. Keep in mind that there are income requirements.
While I’m on the subject of Info Line, another of this area’s unsung hero services, here is a listing of other easy-to-find connections:
• 330-615-0566 — Home Again Intake; provides rent payment assistance and case management to individuals who are homeless or would be homeless without such assistance.
• 330-315-1381 — HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) Program.
• 330-376-7706 — Child Care Connection.
• 330-762-0609 — MedAssist; helps uninsured, low-income Summit County residents to access free and low-cost prescription medications as well as flu shots.
• 330-376-4850 — Emergency Food Line.
• 330-315-1349 — Community Voice Mail Program.
• 888-212-5041 (toll-free) — 24-hour information and referral.
• 800-944-0308 (toll-free) — Lifeline.
• 800-407-5437 (toll-free) — Child Care Connection 800-407-KIDS.
• 877-428-8844 (toll-free) — Housing Locator — call center.
Send email to email@example.com.
United Way of Summit County’s Volunteer Center is encouraging local nonprofits to list their holiday volunteer opportunities.
They should call Andrea Metzler, director of volunteer services, at 330-643-5512.
If you are an individual, family or a group in search of a holiday volunteer project or opportunity, please check out the full list at www.uwsummit.org.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.