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Front Page » April 9, 2002 » Opinion » Letter to the Editor: Best Place in the World
Published 5,437 days ago

Letter to the Editor: Best Place in the World

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By Shellee Luke
Craig Colo

Since September 11, 2001, we have all heard many stories of heroism, kindness, and generosity and some have been particularly inspiring.

On that recent dark day in September when planes were prohibited from entering U.S. airspace, passengers were left stranded in various locations. By 2:36 p.m. 38 of those planes carrying 6,600 people landed at the Gander, Newfoundland International Airport. A call for help went out to Lewisporte, a city of about 4,000 people and a hub for many surrounding villages. A local radio station carried the appeal and people responded in great numbers as shelters were immediately set up in churches, schools, and social centers. Army cots and mats, as well as bundles of bedding and even pajamas were provided. Stores donated toiletries for everyone and toys for children. Striking bus drivers returned to work to transport the stranded plane people. Doctors and nurses made themselves available 24 hours a day and pharmacists filled needed prescriptions for free. Shelters were wired with cable television so that unfolding news events were instantly available. Extra phone lines and computers were brought in so passengers could call and e-mail their loved ones. Women quickly brought soups and sandwiches, and then helped to serve three hot meals a day as well as supplying a never-ending supply of coffee, tea, fruit and desserts for snacking. The townspeople entertained the plane people with local talent, folklore, karaoke, and local sea and forest tours. When passengers were escorted back to their planes, they were reluctant to say goodbye to a community they had grown to love in only three short days.

On Delta Flight 15 a couple of passengers talked about how they could attempt to repay the "Newfies" for their incredible generosity. A doctor on board suggested starting a college fund for local students. By the time the plane landed, the grateful passengers had pledged $15,000, with the amount increasing to $40,000 by December. The Rockefeller Foundation, whose president had been one of those stranded, awarded a $52,500 grant to Lewisporte Middle School for upgrading their computer lab. Clubs and churches received thousands of dollars in donations and money is still pouring in. The kindness that was shown has multiplied many times over.

More recently, at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Shannon Arnoldsen, a volunteer worker from Orem noticed the women's hockey team from Kazakhstan getting off the bus for practice in old hospital scrubs and sweats with holes. Other teams descended in designer outfits and matching berets. The Kazakhstan team had come to the Winter Games for the first time ever and they were without corporate sponsors. Goalie Natalie Trunova had come to Salt Lake City with only $30. They had tried to buy souvenirs at the local mall and then Wal-Mart, but couldn't afford the high prices and had finally stopped at a dollar store. Arnoldsen enlisted the support of some neighbors and friends. The BYU Bookstore quickly donated 25 BYU hooded sweatshirts worth $750. The Utah Homebuilders Association gave 25 button-down dress shirts and Provo City gave Olympic pins and magazines with local scenic pictures. A neighbor's daughter made valentines and her mom helped personalize them for each athlete and coach. Finally the gifts were placed on the bus seats with a new $20 bill and a letter for each member of the group. In the letters they were told that they were truly an inspiration to their new American friends and that they had touched the hearts of people all over the State of Utah with their determination and courage. Trunova was first on the bus, visibly upset and with a tear-stained face after losing a second hockey game. When she found the gifts and letters she began to sob as she hurried to tell her teammates. As they expressed their amazement and gratitude, they were told that this type of generosity is common in Utah. And so it is.

For this reason, it shouldn't have surprised me when citizens of Cleveland, no less generous, and no less willing to help their neighbors and friends banded together like a mini army to help "make a miracle happen".

For 30 years my parents, Lester and Shawna Minchey had poured all of their blood sweat and tears into a sometimes profitable and ofttimes struggling business, Minchey Digging. They built their business on the time-honored values of hard work, honesty, and integrity with a nice sprinkling of compassion. They lived frugally and saved for "the rainy days of retirement" and were able to pay off the mortgage on their home and acquire three modest rental properties in the neighborhood for an income in their later years. Not long after my parents retired and turned the business over to my brothers, my dad became ill with lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer. Chemotherapy treatments killed the cancer but severely damaged his already weakened lungs. For the past seven years he has been totally disabled, on oxygen, and requiring constant care. The condition is a progressive one, causing him to grown continually weaker while laboring for every breath. During this time, my mother has been the sole, uncomplaining caregiver.

When the business failed, the effects were devastating. In trying to save it, my parents exhausted their life savings but it still wasn't enough. Even though retired, they were still tied to the business and everything they owned was suddenly very vulnerable, including the home that they had lived in for the past 24 years. For a time they told no one but family and suffered in a silent hopelessness, wondering how they could possibly secure a place to live when Social Security benefits would now be their sole source of income.

Eventually, word of their circumstances leaked out and friends and neighbors came to offer their love and support. A special friend, Owen Olsen, came with the idea of organizing a benefit for them, knowing of the results of previous benefits in the area, including one that was given for his own son. The purpose of the benefit would be to help them save their home. A committee was formed and a call went out to Cleveland residents and surrounding communities as well as local businesses. This was quickly answered by donations of money, handmade quilts and afghans, household goods and many other items. Owen Olsen donated an oak cedar chest that he had lovingly made for the raffle. Sandra Jensen and Wyanna World bought a gun and started another raffle and offered to make and donate their "special chili" for the dinner. Freda Fillmore, another close friend, donated roast beef and potatoes and headed up the dinner committee. Auctioneers Randy and Wayne Anderson were contacted and agreed to donate their services, along with the assistance of Bo Short. For the evening's entertainment, Val Jensen and his band offered their time and talents and a foster grandson, LaVon Eskeets agreed to bring his family from New Mexico to perform a native Navajo program of music and dancing.

The benefit dinner and auction was held on March 23. Nearly 500 people came to the dinner, which alone brought in $2,700. Many of these stayed to participate in the auction. Hearts and wallets were opened and the spirit of giving was simply amazing. One friend bought a handmade quilt for $300 and then donated it back to be sold again.

My mother has always said that there's no better place in the world than Cleveland. It's the kind of place that gets deep into your soul and makes you glad that you have (in my dad's words) alkali between your toes. Especially if it means that occasionally you can return home and rub shoulders with truly great people with hands that never stop helping and hearts that never stop giving.

It's this kind of generosity that makes residents proud to live in "Castle Valley." It makes Utahns just adore Utah, and it makes Americans into "True Americans." It gives them the kind of Spirit that won't back down and can't be broken and that has been shown throughout the years to grow stronger when faced with tragedy and adversity.

My family and I, my parents, my grandmother, Elva Wayne, my siblings, JoLene, Bill, Rex, Troy, and Tonya, and their families, along with our entire extended family are deeply humbled and completely overwhelmed with gratitude. The love and generosity that has been shown to my parents will never be forgotten and can never be repaid. We want to give special recognition to Owen and Jeannie Olsen, Sandra Jensen, Wyanna World, Randy and Vickie Jensen, Jamie and Lorraine Jensen, Jodie and Lexie Taylor, Wynne Anne Cowley, Frieda Fillmore, Lorna Jensen, Vickie Rassmussen, Ann Murdock, those mentioned previously, and many, many others that brought donations and assisted in various ways.

Because the final numbers are not in and it isn't known how much Far West Bank will be asking, we don't know yet if we'll be able to save the home. We do know, however, that my parents will be able to find a suitable home and that they will always feel blessed to continue to live in "The Best Place in the World."

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