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2018 stories inspired, warmed hearts

2018 stories inspired, warmed hearts

News Tribune staff shares updates on stories that tugged at heartstrings

December 23rd, 2018 by Staff Reports in Local News

Sally Ince/ News Tribune Co-owner Judy Howard, center, makes a champagne toast to memories Saturday December 15, 2018 after closing the doors at Saffees downtown.

Journalists are often placed in positions where they witness how a community, as individuals and collectively, respond to the joys and tragedies that shape people's lives. Then, they have the privilege of sharing those stories in hopes that they touch your lives, just as much as they did the journalist's life.

The year 2018 was marked with many of those stories of joy, ingenuity, heartbreak, compassion and hope. Today, we share 10 of those stories that touched our hearts and illustrate the loving, giving community in which we live.

No. 1 - Living for Braeden Sconce

As a result of injuries caused by a car accident, Braeden Sconce died Feb. 27 at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He was 19 years old.

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In the weeks between the accident and his death, Braeden's family stayed at his bedside while people united to offer support across Mid-Missouri. A recent graduate of South Callaway High School, students and teachers told of Braeden's impact in their lives as a kind-hearted leader, and thousands joined a "Live for Braeden" Facebook page to give prayers or participate in fundraising.

Since his death, Braeden's family started the Braeden Sconce Memorial Scholarship and has held several fundraisers. Shelly Sconce, Braeden's mother, said $10,000 in scholarships were given to six high school students from South Callaway and other area schools this year. More events are planned next year to continue the scholarships.

"It's not an academic scholarship," Shelly said. "A big thing to us is trying to honor students who are leaving a legacy in their commuinty like Braeden did. So it's really a neat scholarship to give out."

Next Februrary, one year after his death, the Sconces plan to petition the Mid America Transplant Network for information on who received his donated organs. Braeden's story will also be one of 12 honored by the Midwest Transplant Network next year.

Donations to the Braeden Sconce Memorial Scholarship can be given to the Sconce family or made at any location of The Callaway Bank.

No. 2 - A fit for one diagnosis leads to more

A Nichols Career Center student and an 82-year-old woman showed last February how even something as small as a piece of plastic can make a difference.

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"It gave her the best quality of life she could have all the way up until the end," Linda Heckman said, reflecting on a medical device that a Nichols student made for her mom, Dolores Forck. Dolores died Feb. 23, a day after the story about her and the student's work with her was published.

Heckman is an embedded math teacher at Nichols, and her mom had a stroke in November 2017 that affected the right side of her body and severely affected her speech.

Forck was doing physical, occupational and speech therapy, but a problem that had persisted into February was her arm tended to curl toward her chest and stay there. Her fingers on her right hand would curl up.

"If it does that, then it's going to stay there. So, if we keep it out here, then we're preventing it from looking like this the rest of her life," Heckman said Feb. 21 of the need to keep her mom's arm extended.

Heckman had told Nichols' mechatronics class and instructor Matt Yeager of the situation. Kaleb Tuinstra — a then-18-year-old Jefferson City High School senior in Yeager's mechatronics class — used a 3-D printer at Nichols to create an attachment that fit the arm mat that was a further attachment to Forck's wheelchair.

The plastic device designed specifically for Forck kept her arm in a healthy position during the day without being a restraint, as Tuinstra and Forck demonstrated Feb. 21 at Westphalia Hills Senior Living Community.

Yeager said Tuinstra had been the first student in his class to make anything that was health related. Mechatronics involves a variety of disciplines including 3-D printing, drafting, soldering, industrial applications and robotics.

"It's really kind of opened my eyes toward being able to see what I can do in the world," Tuinstra said of what the experience of making the device for Forck has meant to him over the past year. He's 19 now, enrolled at Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla and studying mechanical engineering.

He said the experience of his work with and for Forck cemented his enjoyment of mechanical engineering. He added there may be similar opportunities to help available at a nearby hospital in Rolla.

Yeager said Tuinstra also made another device to enable a student's parent who uses a wheelchair to be able to hold his cellphone, which he could not do because his hands clamped up.

A device similar to Forck's is also being used by another stroke patient at the Adams Street StoneBridge Senior Living community in Jefferson City, he said.

"We gave it back to mechatronics, should anybody else be able to use it," Heckman said of what she and her family did with her mom's device after her death. "(Yeager) has it now for like a show and tell for students."

The legacy of Tuinstra's work to help Forck will soon be more than that, though. Yeager said he's recently had a conversation with the leaders of the physical and occupational therapy departments at Capital Region Medical Center, and his more advanced students in mechatronics who work with 3-D printing will start to work on developing other devices for patients there in a few months.

Yeager said Forck's device was used to show the CRMC staff what the class had produced in the past. He said the conversation with CRMC staff produced ideas for 10 things — one of which is a device that would enable patients to grab different utensils to eat with, and another to help them put on socks if they can't bend over.

"Some of them weren't just for patients, (but) things to make physical therapists' lives easier," Yeager said of other ideas.

Heckman said her mom did get to see her story in the News Tribune before she died. "She was pretty darn excited," Heckman said.

She said her mom was just as healthy Feb. 22 as when she had been interviewed the day before, but she died suddenly about 2:30 a.m. the next day.

"God had other plans for her," she said.

Heckman said the most rewarding part for her was seeing Tuinstra work with her mom and "to see his reaction, and the care he had, the impact it had on him" and his classmates. It helped them to see, she said, that "helping somebody else is so rewarding."

No. 3 - Everyone deserves a Chance

In January, the News Tribune introduced readers to the story of Chance, the dog.

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Chance, a then 3-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, was rescued from a Jan. 3 house fire on Walsh Street in Jefferson City. One of his owners died from smoke inhalation, and his other owner suffered serious injuries and was no longer able to care for him.

His new owner, Jefferson City Assistant Fire Chief Tim Grace, was not on duty when the fire occurred, but he worked the cleanup and rescue effort after the fire was extinguished.

"Chance was brought out by two firefighters and was only breathing five times per minute when they got him out," Grace said. "He truly is getting a second chance because he should not have survived the fire."

Chance was taken to the Jefferson City Animal Shelter to recover from his injuries and smoke inhalation. Grace checked in on the dog a few hours after he was brought in and continued to do so for several days, getting attached to the dog and eventually adopting him.

"He is doing great," Grace said. "He lost a bit of his weight. He is much more energetic no more cough from the smoke, and he loves to go fishing."

No. 4 - 'SEASONS' of Success

At 20 years old, Nandor Fox Shaffer took his fictional story concept — 20-something Fletcher Hart Iiams' journey through four seasons of superpower realization and personal growth — and started his own quest to publish his first graphic novel, "SEASONS Vol. 1: Spring."

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Iiams' relatable story resonated with more people than just Shaffer. More than 100 backers financially supported Shaffer's $6,500 Kickstarter campaign goal to self-publish "SEASONS Vol. 1: Spring," contributing $6,562 within 40 days in the summer of 2017. The book was published at the end of the same year.

Shaffer and his novel's artist, Anthony Gonzales-Clark, now have more than half of his 500 books printed sold, four successful book signings and attendance of three conventions for Shaffer to showcase his work. In fact, Shaffer gave well-known "re-birth" era of Batman comic book writer Tom King a copy of "SEASONS Vol 1: Spring" at Planet Comicon in Kansas City.

"He said, 'This is your first book?'" Shaffer said, noting he commented on how professional it looked with the artwork, story and print quality. "He gave me money and bought my book. That was amazing and meant a lot to me."

Shaffer has a plan to launch a new Kickstarter campaign to help publish "SEASONS Vol. 2: Summer" in this spring, printing the book this fall or winter. "SEASONS Vol 1: Spring" is available in Jefferson City at Downtown Book & Toy, Downtown Book & Toy II at Capital Mall and The Antiquarium, and Rock Bolton Comics in Columbia, as well as seasonsthecomicbook.com.

Shaffer is also in the middle of a new Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel he wrote called "Lifeline," which uses seven artists for each chapter. More than half of the $5,500 goal to publish "Lifeline" has been raised. Shaffer's Kickstarter campaign will remain open until 9 a.m. Jan. 1, 2019, at www.kickstarter.com/projects/306932693/lifeline-a-graphic-novel.

No. 5 - Alzheimer's challenge

At 55, Jefferson City resident Terri Walker was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier this year. She knew the toll the disease takes on a family as her grandmother also had struggled with the neurodegenerative disease.

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While Alzheimer's — a mental deterioration caused by degeneration of the brain — typically occurs in people 65 years and older, it can appear in people at a younger age.

Since the diagnosis, Walker and her family have been preparing for the challenges that lie ahead.

After being diagnosed, Walker took a holistic approach to her treatment, including changing her migraine medications, eating healthier, sleeping more soundly and focusing on exercise. In June — less than two months since her diagnosis — she said she had stopped repeating herself as much and was less frustrated.

The disease is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute on Aging — a National Institute of Health center.

"I try to keep my brain working as much as possible," Walker said last week. "I volunteer at Moreau Heights Elementary where my grandson goes to school. I bowl. I've been involved in the Alzheimer's Association and raised over $4,000 with a team I organized for one of the memory walks.

"I hope I've helped people so they can get over the stigma that's associated with Alzheimer's," she said. "You can't get help if you don't recognize the symptoms and get tested."

No. 6 - Going out in style

Commemorating their final day of business with heartfelt smiles and a champagne toast, Saffees clothing store closed its doors Dec. 15 after 96 years of service, fashion and friendship.

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The four siblings who owned Saffees announced in October they would be retiring the business to focus more on family. For three months after their announcement, both owners and co-workers were showered with love and gratitude.

"The people in the community have really wrapped around us and really thanked us a thousand times over for what we've done, and you can't say enough but thank you to the community, you really can't," co-owner Judy Howard said.

"We've had the sweetest notes, and there will never be anything like it again," she added.

Although retirement was a hard decision, the family is looking forward to the bright futures ahead of them including a full Christmas together.

"The one wish we asked for," Howard commented. "I've been here 45 years, and Christmas has just been a half of a blur. So this year, we're spending Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday all doing Christmas. In fact, the kids are getting matching pajamas," she said.

Howard also plans to travel more, do some volunteer work and relax with the grandkids, especially after working nonstop during Saffees' final days of business, which packed the store with numerous women and some very patient husbands for the final sales.

When closing time finally came, the family, co-workers and friends gathered around to remove the portrait of previous owner and mother, Lorraine Mercurio, who passed away this summer, and toast to all the memories at Saffees.

When asking Howard if there was anything she would like to personally say to all of her customers, she said: "Thank you for the support through all the years and not just the store but for supporting me. It's not just buying stuff in the store and being true to the store, but being true to me, coming to me and making me who I am."

No. 7 - 'Honey,' Ceres share a birthday

In mid-November, a 94-year-old woman was celebrated by hundreds of Missouri residents as construction workers lifted up her base and removed her from her perch atop the Missouri State Capitol.

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A little more than a half-mile away, Jimmie Dean "Honey" Charton watched from atop the DoubleTree Hotel as her fellow nonagenarian was lowered by a 550-foot crane and strapped to the back of a flatbed truck.

"She probably looks better than I do," Charton said Nov. 15 while sitting over her birthday breakfast in the Sapphire Restaurant. "She's beautiful — Greek-looking. There was a girl in my class who looked just like her."

Charton, 94, arrived at the hotel Nov. 14 with her family, who decided to give Charton a spectacular view of the event. The next morning, she watched Ceres, the statue atop the Capitol dome, get removed for the first time since workers placed her on the dome Oct. 29, 1924.

An Arkansas native, Charton was only 7 months old when workers fitted the statue to the dome. While reflecting on the moment last week, Charton said the day felt special.

"I don't do those things anymore because I live in a retirement home," Charton said. "I could really see what was going on, and it was amazing."

The 10-foot-4-inch bronze statue of Ceres — the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships — needed to be removed from atop the Capitol dome so workers could repair the dome during an ongoing $50 million renovation of the Capitol.

Brittany Ruess, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Office of Administration, said last week the restoration of the statue at a Chicago studio will only take a few weeks. Over the next year, work needs to be done to the dome and her base before she can be put back up.

Ceres is still on track to be placed atop the dome again in November 2019, Ruess said.

Charton hopes to see Ceres placed atop the Capitol. Still, she doesn't beat around the bush. By then, she may not be around, she said.

"I would love to, but I'm almost 95 years old," Charton said. "So I'm taking it day-by-day."

No. 8 - Robotics team bands together after coach's death

In April, Marty Graham found himself as the unexpected shepherd of technology in Eldon.

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Graham served as a mentor for the Eldon Upper Elementary School robotics club and took over as the coach of its FIRST robotics team after Jerry Barsby, the team's coach and a teacher at the school, died in April.

Barsby died after a floor jack broke while he was working under a motor vehicle. Shortly before Barsby died, he guided the team through regional and state competitions in Missouri to get to the international competition.

Graham took over coaching duties and guided the team through an international competition in Houston, where FIRST organizers honored the late coach.

This fall, Graham gave up coaching the school's team and started an independent team for home schooled middle school children.

"We tried to branch out and get some home-schooled kids that were unable to do it any other way," Graham said.

This fall, Eldon added a high school robotics team, he said.

Last year, the school's team participated in the FIRST Lego League, a competition that forces elementary and middle school students to build robots out of Legos. Now, all three Eldon area teams also participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a competition for middle school and high school students that forces students to build robots from metal that perform tasks like stacking crates and attacking forts.

"There's more in-depth programming," Graham said.

No. 9 - K9s on the Front Lines

In October, the first group of U.S. veterans in Missouri trained their service dogs as part of the K9s on the Front Lines program. Last week, that same group of veterans graduated from the K9s on the Front Lines.

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The program provides certified, trained service dogs to military veterans affected by post traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury, according to K9s on the Front Lines' website. It also saves dogs from euthanasia.

The program recently expanded to Missouri and is free to veterans who qualify. It originated in Maine three years ago and serves more than 175 veterans.

Jason Howe, Midwest coordinator for the program, said he is proud to see the first group of Missouri veterans graduate.

"It's an absolute amazing feeling to see first-hand how it's changed veterans' lives by working with service dogs," he said.

The nonprofit hopes to start its next class in February, Howe said. It will also host its first black tie gala at Capitol Plaza on March 21, with all funds raised going toward the program.

Veterans can apply for the program at k9sonthefrontlines.org.

No. 10 - Adoptive foster moms

In May, the News Tribune showed how a foster family spent Mother's Day.

Leigh Dunlap, principal at South Callaway R-2 Early Childhood, and her family took in three foster children shortly before Mother's Day. She changed her family's plans for the holiday so the foster children could visit their mother, who had asked that they visit her on the holiday.

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Dunlap had to supervise the visit because it is required, which meant she would be away from her biological children for part of the day. Despite this, Dunlap said she felt love for the children's mother, who was working to meet the requirements to get the children back.

Foster care officials said Missouri has seen an increase in children in foster care over the last several years and a lot of it has to do with drug use.

About 15,000 Missouri children are in need of foster care.

In Missouri, when children are removed from a home, the ideal placement is with a fit parent. Barring that option, a grandparent or blood relative is sought. A kinship (or non-relative who is close enough to the family to appear as family) placement is considered. Some go into foster care with strangers. Most over age 9 end up in residential treatment facilities or congregate care (such as group homes, residential child care communities, child care institutions and maternity homes).

Dunlap said the three children she had are now living with their grandmother.

"We still keep in touch and visited for Christmas," she said. "It was a good experience, and I'd do it again. We learn just as much from them as they learn from us."

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