The following is my article reprinted from today's New Castle Courier-Times. I had the pleasure of seeing Ron Keaton's show and meeting him in Indy. It was well done on every level.
New Castle native and professional actor Ron Keaton is bringing his signature adaptation, “Churchill,” to Richmond for one show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29. It will benefit two theater groups that remain near and dear to the actor: Richmond Civic Theatre, venue of the performance, and Nettle Creek Players.
Nettle Creek Players Board President Jeff Dickey said proceeds from the $25 tickets will be split between both theater groups. Tickets are available at the RCT box office at 765-962-1816 or the RCT website at gorct.org.
“This production of ‘Churchill’ is Ron’s way of giving something of himself back to our organizations,” Dickey says. “All of us have been involved with the performing arts since those days with Nettle Creek Players.”
Keaton worked with both theaters in his early years, but the Chicago resident says that while he has been fortunate to work in front of many people, he hasn’t “worked back home since the mid ‘70s. Should be a lot of fun.”
Since its debut in August 2014, “Churchill” has been performed an estimated 350 times around the country.
When asked how he feels about bringing the production to his home turf, Keaton says, “Nervous. Excited. And ready as I can be.”
A 1972 New Castle graduate, where he served as class president, Keaton says he has been a full-time actor since performing with Nettle Creek Players in 1971, which amounts to his entire adult life.
Dickey says he is looking forward to having Keaton back in town for what he calls “an amazing production,” and also looks forward to spending time with old friends and reminiscing about the theater’s early days “under the tent” in Hagerstown.
“Plus, Ron will be meeting with our cast and crew for this season and talking with them about what the summer ‘under the tent’ will mean to them and the lessons and skills they will learn and develop during the season,” Dickey said.
In a file Courier-Times article about his career, Keaton says, “I mark my beginnings from the old Nettle Creek Players tent in Hagerstown, an organization that thrived there for 30 years. I was part of the first five years or so; it taught me so much about my own abilities.”
He wrote the solo “Churchill” play based on a teleplay by a Churchill scholar that played on PBS in the 1980s. “I also did endless research on my own of the man and feel like I know him well,” he told The Courier-Times in a file story.
Keaton remarked that Americans loved British Prime Minister Churchill and he returned that love. “He was half-American; his mother was from Brooklyn. His father was a hard man – politician, military man who raised Winston and his brother Jack with an iron hand,” the actor says.
When asked what he has to say to Courier-Times readers about attending the performance, Dickey says “they should come to see ‘Churchill’ to see what their hometown native has done with his art. Then come to see the Nettle Creek Players and enjoy the show. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
Says Keaton, “And to the hometown folks, I say what any good actor would say – come to the show! – and thank you for everything.”
For more about Nettle Creek Players and the summer schedule, visit nettlecreekplayers.com or call 765-312-2722.
It's amazing what one mom can accomplish--and then a community comes beside her. An update on the New Castle Miracle League, reprinted from this weekend's Courier-Times, Indiana Weekender.
by Donna Cronk
Eleven years ago, Cindy Brooks hoped to give her daughter, Hannah, a fun experience playing baseball. Hannah, now 26, couldn’t understand why her brothers got to play the game but she didn’t.
So the mom made a way, creating what is now a specialized league for children and adults ages 3 and up with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, where they play by T-ball rules, and have buddies helping them out on the field.
“I thought we’d just play that one year,” recalls Brooks.
But little did she know then that she had founded what is now a New Castle staple that last year served about 130 players, and 11 years later, is going strong. In fact, plans are under way to raise money for their own Miracle League baseball complex.
“It’s a lot of hard work ... but as soon as you see them, that joy and smile and high fives; it’s all worth it,” says Brooks, who is founder and league director.
League opening day is Saturday, July 27 with play on Friday nights and Saturdays for the seven-week season. Those wanting to sign up can do so on the website at miracleleagueofnewcastle.com. Buddies and other volunteers willing to assist a little or a lot can also sign up there. To register other ways or for information, contact Brooks at 765-524-5650 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is not a pay-to-play organization, but the league requests a $25 donation per player if possible to help with expenses.
The payoff is this. Says Brooks, “It’s like watching the winners of the World Series every time they play.”
Dreaming of a new field
While the league currently plays on the girls softball field at Baker Park, organizers are hoping for their own field of dreams. Brooks explains that it would have two synthetic turf ballfields, an all-assessable playground and restrooms, concessions and bleachers.
She’s talking to the city to see if there is any ground available. She said of the 300 Miracle League fields throughout the country, none had to pay for their land, but it was provided to the leagues free of charge in the different communities.
The local league pays a membership fee to the Miracle League headquarters, based in Conyers, Georgia. As part of their membership, building plans for a new complex would be provided for no extra charge. Cost of building it and materials, however, would need to be paid by either a corporate donor or the money raised to fund it. Or, it may be a combined effort.
Brooks said it would be possible to host competitive travel games or even host an All-Star game. Such a thing is not do-able now, for one reason – because the current field is not totally wheelchair accessible. “We can use it but there are barriers there that slow things down some,” Brooks says.
Fundraiser has begun
Fundraising for the goal of a new complex is underway now with a bench made by Jaron Baker, who while a junior at New Castle Career Center, built a bench and his family paid for it to be power coated. He is now a senior at Hagerstown High School.
The idea came from Steven Vitatoe, welding instructor at the career center, who found the league’s abandoned cash register last year after it had been stolen in a theft that amounted to a total $700 loss to the league.
He offered to make a bench and chose the word HOPE to place on it. Brooks was taken aback by the word in a positive way because she said the word HOPE is a league theme word.
Vitatoe says of Miracle League, “I really think it is important for everyone to have access to fun activities. After I heard about the break-in I was really upset and wanted to help out.”
He said Mary Logan came up with the idea of a HOPE bench, “and we all got to work.”
The bench was donated to the league and the public is welcome to place bids on it now through July 27. It will go to the to the highest bidder, and be announced at noon, Saturday, Aug. 3 at the ballpark.
Miracle League is a club within a club as part of the Breakfast Optimists. Brooks says that all three local Optimists clubs help sponsor the organization, along with an anonymous sponsor that helps with uniforms and hats.
To place a bid, use the email in this article or go to the Facebook page of Miracle League of New Castle and private message.
Brooks says the cost to create a Miracle League complex – which could be done in phases, and one that would include lighting and bleachers – would come in around $900,000.
She would love to see corporate sponsors help with such a large figure. She says the city is working well with the league. “I would like to partner with Special Olympics to build a complex that would include a track, soccer fields, basketball court ...” says Brooks.
Miracle League Co-Director Tammy Rains thinks getting the complex is do-able. In addition to her player son, Mike Cole, 38, several members of her family are involved in various ways from coaching to offering support as volunteers.
“It’s just a joy to interact with all the players,” says Rains, who has been involved all 11 years. “Just to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having ...”
While it might take a miracle to get a complex built here – that is, after all, the name of the league.
Says Brooks, “... We are praying that we can find a great place for this park.”
A reprint of my Sunday feature in The Courier-Times.
by Donna Cronk
The public is invited to the first of four annual concerts sponsored by First Presbyterian Church in New Castle. The first one is an hour-long organ concert at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9 in the sanctuary at 1202 Church St.
Presenting the concert is Mary Ragna Yetter, the church’s new director of music, with a program called Summer Wind Pipes. A fellowship reception will follow.
Selections include such pieces as “The Emperor’s Fanfare,” by Antonio Soler; “Sonata II in C Minor,” by Felix Mendelssohn; “Prelude” by Louis Vierne, “Adagio in G Minor,” by Tomaso Albinoni and an offering written by former local resident Robert A. Hobby, “Glorious Things of You Are Spoken.”
A special treat will feature “Haydn Clockworks,” which are little pieces of music written for high-end 18th-century clocks.
For Yetter, her work is about “making music happen in this building.”
That includes directing the choir, playing the church’s massive pipe organ, and producing various special musical performances throughout the year.
Yetter anticipates that the upcoming organ concert’s musical selections will “show off the sounds of this instrument.” She said this organ has incredibly good sound.
First Presbyterian Pastor Rev. Rod Smith says that Yetter brings “years and years training and experience, both in the USA and internationally, to one of the finest pipe organs in the state. I think of it as a perfect match of refined skills, talent, love of craft, brought to an instrument that knowledgeable musicians crave to play.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Yetter has been interested in the organ since she was a small child. Her mother took lessons but had to give them up. The daughter then started taking them at about age 5 and has been at it ever since. She played throughout high school and assumed she would continue playing and learning about her instrument.
Majoring in organ performance was the natural next step and she earned a bacehlor’s degree from Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, a certificate of advanced study from the Royal College of Music in London, England, and has a master of music degree from the University of Memphis.
Yetter also plays harpsichord and violin, and has performed with a variety of orchestras, chamber groups, choruses and in solo concerts.
Since moving to Anderson last summer, Yetter has served as Anderson University organist. Throughout her adult years, she has been a professional organist and choir director at various churches in several states and in Ireland. Her husband, Erich, is an assistant professor of dance at Anderson University. They reside in Anderson and are parents to three grown children.
“In the arts, you go to wherever the job is,” says the master organist.
Yetter has taught both organ and piano in the past and is open to continuing that in the future. When she isn’t involved with music, Yetter enjoys reading, cooking and their pet dog, Shiloh.
She’s delighted by the welcome she has received at the New Castle church.
“They really are wonderful people,” says Yetter. “They really want to be singing and they are so appreciative. They really have just welcomed me here.”
Smith says the church historically maintained a strong music program and that the new director has arrived at a crucial and exciting time.
She says, “They needed me at exactly the same time that I needed them.”
Adds Smith, “I can’t wait for Mary Ragna’s first public concert and for her to unveil the musicians who’ll play at the four we are planning for each calendar year.”
She invites everyone to come enjoy the program and fellowship. “I just want it to be joyful,” she says.
Note: The following feature story appeared in the Sunday, May 19, 2019 Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner. It is reprinted here.
by Donna Cronk
Chuck Avery never minded the idea of growing older.
If you're waiting for the punch line, there isn't one.
“When I was younger, I thought older people seemed respected and settled,” he says, adding that they are “not trying to impress anyone. Just trying to relax. It turned out like I thought.”
Avery, 84, spoke during a Tuesday brunch at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle. His topic concerned thoughts on aging.
The Hagerstown resident and Connersville native is well known regionally for his regular humor column that still runs in The Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner along with two other papers. At one time during his nearly 30-year side career as a general-and-humor columnist, his work appeared in nine newspapers.
Avery said he almost never knows in advance what he will write about in any given column. He credits former Hagerstown Exponent and Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen with giving him his start. He has no plans to quit writing the columns. But as for speaking gigs, he doesn’t do so many anymore.
He said last year, he spoke in Richmond. The person who invited him mentioned a stipend and told him to keep the talk to 15-20 minutes. Avery asked if he could have 25 minutes, and the person said no, 15 would be better. Avery responded, “If you’d raise my stipend, I won’t show up and we’d both be happy.”
Avery says it’s a true story, the kind readers have come to expect from the retired 27-year speech, drama, and literature teacher at Hagerstown High School. Youngest son Ian now teaches writing in Ohio. Chuck and wife Michelle have four grown kids, 10 grandchildren and two greats.
The couple became interested in each other while doing a play in Angola many years ago. She taught school for 31 years in Richmond before retiring.
Michelle says in their family, her husband is known for his storytelling abilities. She says he has the same personality at home that comes across in his columns. But, he says he wasn’t known for his wit while growing up.
Of his hundreds of columns, Avery says a personal favorite is about Christmas when he was a kid. A local organization sent the family some holiday gifts – and the Averys sent them back, requesting that the group give the presents to a family who needed them.
“We didn’t have anything but pride,” he recalls.
As a young man, he worked in Connersville factories where he found the jobs boring. Yet the experiences were significant because they motivated him to head to college and pursue something more interesting.
Along with his teaching career and sideline of column writing, producing books, and public radio commentaries, he and Michelle built two houses in rural Hagerstown. They still live in the second one, built a decade ago, which they designed and mostly built themselves. He still works on their property and cuts wood to heat the house.
These days his hobbies include learning to play classic guitar and improving his pool game. He works at both daily.
On Tuesday, Larry and Norma Meyer of New Castle were part of a packed house to hear Avery’s program. She worked at Hagerstown High School with Avery when he served as department head. She says he was witty back then.
Avery said once he finished talking in Richmond last year, the event host told the audience, “Next month, we’ll have a really good speaker.”
It’s all copy. And for Chuck Avery, it’s a good life.
Tips on aging well from Chuck Avery
During his Tuesday program, newspaper columnist Chuck Avery offered thoughts on how to avoid appearing old. He suggests that folks implement these tips as soon as they get their first AARP solicitation. He mentioned that for many at the luncheon, that invite came long ago. He shared:
1. Once you are invited to join AARP, start using rear-view mirrors when backing up. Receiving the invite means it won’t be long before the recipient can no longer use the arm-over-seat, turn-your-head-around-to-see method.
2. Begin parking in the same general area in big parking lots. Avoid trying to get into a parked car you haven’t owned for two years.
3. Commit to memorizing the make and model of your current car.
4. Make lists of every act you intend to do wherever you’re going. Avery deadpanned that he doesn’t get to a big city such as New Castle often but he had a list with two things on it for Tuesday. The list included go speak at Forest Ridge, then go to Kroger for a big ham.
5. Avoid abbreviations on your list. If you just put P and B on your list, you might end up with pork and beans.
6. Learn to address everyone as “neighbor.” That way you no longer have to memorize names.
The following article appeared in a special section Sunday in The Courier-Times under the theme Cultivating Henry County: Family Farms. Any time I can mix it up with some llamas, it's a good day.
by Donna Cronk
For years, Allen and Sue Davis and their daughter, Lindsay (now Lindsay Brown), raised sheep on their rural New Castle property, west of Cadiz. After Lindsay's tenth year showing 4-H sheep, she and her mom were at the Indiana State Fair and watched a llama exhibition. But they did something more than merely watch.
"We bought two llamas," recalls Sue of their quick decision that day.
The two geldings, Prince and Romeo, were the start of a new era for the family, that of raising and showing llamas all over the country as well as Allen becoming a show judge with the Alpaca and Llama Show Association.
"It just kept growing," Sue says of their interest in these animals that has spanned almost 25 years. "We've met lots of nice people from all over the U.S. and Canada."
At one time they also bred and sold the animals but now maintain their herd for their own family's enjoyment.
There are two classes of showing llamas: performance and halter. The Davises work in the halter class.
When judging llamas, Allen says, "You're basically looking at the confirmation of the animal structure. You watch their walk, squareness of front legs and rear legs, walk, top line, sqareness of their rump, length of neck."
Historically, llamas were used for packing / utility animals in South America where they were better than horses or mules for that purpose. They are also guard animals by nature. Interestingly enough, Sue says that Noblesville has the largest 4-H llama youth association in the nation with an average of 100 4-Hers participating.
Lindsay says they are used on farms within herds to protect the other animals. If they become aware of danger, they sound a special "alarm" call to alert the others. A herd of llamas will surround its own young ones to protect them from predators. And when llamas are content, they hum.
Says Allen, "They're like a dog. A lot of it is in the breeding."
Other attributes of the creatures are that they are people-pleasers, very clean and can even be potty trained.
The Davis farm, called Rose Cottage Llamas, is home to the one-time national grand champion wool male llama, a Bolivian llama named Conductor. The family says he won every show he was in for three years. He also served as national reserve champion during his prime. He is deceased now but a large, framed picture of him is featured on a wall. Llamas can live into their 20s.
Allen says of llamas, "When you are around them, they have a calmness to them that makes your mind and your body calm." He says they are quick learners.
Says Sue, "I like to watch their gracefulness. They're nice to each other."
Adds Lindsay, "They always remember you by your scent."
Lindsay says of the animals, "They all have their own personality. There's always one female in charge." Lindsay and her children, Luke and Layla, were on hand to talk about the llamas on the day The Courier-Times visited. The Browns make their home in Hagerstown.
Right now the rural New Castle family has a herd of 10 females and three males.
Allen owned AJ Pools in Anderson for 40 years. He's now retired. Sue, who is a high school special education teacher at Shenandoah, says she misses showing the animals. However, with two young grandchildren, who knows? Rose Cottage llamas may again be back in show rings once again.
Donna Cronk photo // For The Courier-Times // Magician Marcus Lehmann prepares to "saw" Fayth Koontz in half. But the gag was much more campy than scary, and Koontz reported afterward that she loved it and never misses the magician's return to the fair. She's been attending the show since she was 1.
It happens every August, at the same time the Indiana State Fair is under way, and long after all the county 4-H fairs have wrapped up. It's not 4-H based and there's no corporate sponsor, unless you count the corporate efforts of volunteers on the fair board who run the big show in a seamless manner. These are farmers and retirees, working folks and more than anything, their qualifications are hard work and a love for Mooreland, Indiana and its annual fair.
The Mooreland Free Fair, to be exact, although I often refer to it fondly as The Mooreland World's Fair.
When you enter the fairgrounds on the southern edge of this small northeastern-Henry County town during this festival, you might think you've arrived inside a time capsule and the year is 1952. Oddly, I could get no phone service on my cell from the grounds. Maybe it is 1952 and cellphones have not been invented.
Fairgoers can enter their pumpkins, eggs and other agricultural products. Or, they can enter their kids or grandkids in kiddie pedal pulls or baby contests. You can enjoy the finest bowl of ham and beans with a side of cornbread this side of heaven, prepared by the local Friends Church volunteers. There's a carnival, a building filled with local and state politicians and business people and moms with side jobs selling various goods. There are the Cornfield Cloggers to watch, or the magician, parade or talent shows.
There are queen and princess candidates, tractor and truck pulls. There are couples who appear to have been married for decades walking around holding hands. There are overall-clad farmers right out of central casting filling benches to watch the crowd. People just seem to flat like The Mooreland Free Fair. They like it a lot.
It is a throw-back festival with no sign of dying.
And of course, my newspaper, The Courier-Times, covers the Mooreland Free Fair.
This year I had the opportunity to work two things I have never done before, in 35 years of community reporting. One was an antique tractor pull; the other a family-friendly magic show. I decided to approach it the way I approach anything I cover: Why is this activity important to these people? Why does the community at large care?
So I called the magician early and got some background. He left me a saved seat for the show.
And I talked to the tractor pull guys before it was time to start their engines. What interested me was how they had more to say about the relationships with each other than of boasting of their mutual competitive drives.
Here's the tractor-pull story which ran Wednesday in The Courier-Times.
I'm almost 60 but when you work in community journalism, there's always something new. Even if it's something old and charming such as The Mooreland Free Fair -- no, make that The Mooreland World's Fair.
Antique tractor pull: 'It's a friendly competition'
By DONNA CRONK - email@example.com
MOORELAND — For Ron Peavler, who lives near Mechanicsburg, the antique tractor pull at the Mooreland Fair is not so much about winning as it is about enjoying friends and reliving memories.
“It’s a friendly competition,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody.”
Monday night, he entered his 1953 Oliver Row Crop 88.
“It’s what I grew up with as a kid,” said Ron of the vintage model. “We helped different farmers and we had these kind of tractors.”
The pull brings back memories. “I came here as a kid and watched them (pulls),” he said.
But now he’s making new memories. His son, Ron Peavler Jr., was the team’s driver Monday night.
“I like to be able to hang out with my dad and my brother,” the younger Peavler said of his favorite part of participating in the pull.
Their tractor is 150 horsepower now, a far cry from the 36 to 42 it contained new out of the factory. While he’s participated for several years, the senior Peavler jokes that he’s “still a rookie.”
Definitely not a rookie is Richard Winter, originally from the Sulphur Springs/Middletown area and now of Yorktown. He’s been coming to the Mooreland Fair since he was a little kid.
“The town’s not changed much and the fair’s not changed much either,” said Winter, who’s won a few pulls. In Monday’s show, he entered a 1954 McCormick Farmall 400.
“I’ve been doing this off and on since I got back from Vietnam in the ’70s,” he said of pulling.
He and his brother used to team up but now, “I pull when I feel like it. I bought this thing. It looked terrible,” deadpans Winter, adding that the tractor is “all beefed up” now.
Winter said a stock tractor would “probably never get the sled going.” The sled is what contains the weight that the tractors pull as far as they can.
But the best part of the pull for Winter seems to come in the friendships.
“A lot of it’s just seeing the guys I’ve known all the years,” said Winters, adding that it’s like family. Working with him Monday night was his nephew, Al Winter.
When asked why he enters tractor pulls, Dick Gettinger of Springport said, “It’s in the blood.” Relative Brian Gettinger of Knightstown said, “Our family’s been pulling for 60-plus years.”
The Gettingers brought Dick’s 1957 Minneapolis Moline 445. Dick laughed about it, saying, “It’s a piece of junk. It wasn’t running when we got it. So we tinkered.”
Perhaps the tractor is not junk, after all. The Gettingers said it has placed in the top five many times.
Brian said of working on tractors, “Some of the new stuff’s easier, but I enjoy working on the old stuff more.”
Dale Marling and Delbert Hertel brought tractors from Liberty to enter in the pull.
“It’s just a neat place to pull,” Marling said of the Mooreland venue.
Yesterday a letter (and pop-up card) arrived from a woman named June whom I have never met, but who saved newspaper clippings of my articles as well as copies of her magazine for women, to share with a friend of hers, Linda, who lives in Liberty, my hometown.
I should say lived in my hometown, because June's letter yesterday was to tell me that her friend passed away in February. June had told me that Linda had been to one of my signings, and asked if I would send her friend an encouraging note. I did just that a couple times, wishing her well in battling her illness. I am sorry to hear that she passed.
In this throw-away as well as often paperless society we live in, I'm touched to know that someone would actually take the time and effort to save articles that I write and that someone else would be happy to get them.
Yesterday's letter, which arrived in the bright green envelope above, is the latest in my stack of reader snail mail. This stack was started when my second book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, came out approaching two years ago. I filed away the mail that had arrived after the first book, up until summer 2016.
The envelope on top of the stack is what I mailed back to June. You'll notice a sticker of a bird. I like to put stickers on my mail because I like getting letters with stickers on them. I always tell them at work that when I get a handwritten envelope with a sticker on the back (or sometimes on the front in one or more corner), I know that person "comes in peace."
Often I'm asked if I'm working on a third book. I can't say it won't happen, or that it will. But I can promise you that not a day passes when I'm "not" writing one thing or another: features for the newspaper, emails to a variety of friends, upcoming programs and something new in recent months: Wednesday devotions for Ovid Community Church. I have the Wednesday slot and I'm trusting the Holy Spirit for continued inspiration. If you are interested in seeing them or other devotions and posts, let me know and I'd be happy to add you to the group. (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Meanwhile, I invited June, and I'm inviting you too, to my free program at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10. There's a free brunch, then program and the promise of a "lively discussion." I'm bringing a door prize and yes, a few copies of my books, if anyone is interested in buying signed copies or visiting with me after.
If interested, give Senior Living a ring at 765-521-4740 and tell them you'd like to attend. If you don't know where it is, put 2800 Forest Ridge Parkway in your GPS. The program is for the monthly Social Society and community members are welcome.
Meanwhile, let me say I'm grateful to those who continue to read these posts, take The Courier-Times, read my books or inquire about what I'm working on. Read on and I'll write on, good Lord willing.
Back in the winter, (don't you like using the word winter in the past tense?), LauraLisa out at Senior Living at Forest Ridge invited me to speak to the April brunch of the Social Society. It's free to any retiree who would like to come by. Just call to let them know you are coming so they will have enough food.
I decided to switch things up and do a new program for those attending. I've selected three posts from right here on my Home Row blog, and tweaked them for a "live audience." I'll be talking about basketball, newspapering and grocery shopping with the husband. There's time for questions about these or other topics, and yes, I'm bringing along a door prize. Best of all, it's free! So come on out to beautiful Senior Living at Forest Ridge, the place I tell folks that I'd like to be put in layaway.
While I'm plugging an upcoming program, here's a run down of some places I'll be speaking this busy spring. As I've said before, I could never have guessed that the "tour" continues, but it does, and it takes on new aspects. Maybe I'll see you on the road. We have a good time.
Donna Cronk / New Castle Courier-Times photo // Karen and Eric Haler are interviewed by CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland in their New Castle home Tuesday. The 700 Club is doing extensive interviews for an upcoming segment on the Halers' son, Joel, and what is credited as nothing less than a miracle that he is walking.
Note: I wrote the following article on deadline for the New Castle Courier-Times Tuesday. It appears in today's newspaper.
The C-T has previously written about Joel's sudden healing. This time, I was invited into the home of his parents, Eric and Karen Haler, to watch the taping by the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club program which airs internationally.
It was a treat to sit a few feet away from the taping and take notes on what unfolded in the interview. It's a much simpler process than one might imagine.
From CBN were the producer / interviewer Shannon Woodland and two technical professionals who handled lighting and sound. A few large lights were placed in the room as what you might find in a professional photography studio. Sound equipment was put in place, including small microphones on the Halers. The technical twosome stood in the back of the room with cameras.
Shannon, wearing casual jeans, boots and sweater, and holding a coffee cup throughout the segment, sat in front of the Halers, who were seated on chairs from their home in the middle of the living room.
The producer had no problem with me covering the session, I just couldn't take photos during the interview. I took them during equipment checks moments before the taping.
CBN had been in Indy Monday as the producer vetted the story, and had been to interview Joel, who now lives in California. Today Shannon is interviewing the young boy mentioned in the story.
Meanwhile, I had an email out to Joel with a list of questions for the story, and got some photos from his folks to use right before deadline. You never know when you put together a story if there will be space for one, two or several photos so you have to be ready, complete with captions.
The CBN staff and the Halers were all great to work with and I am grateful for the experience with "big-platform" faith-based media. Shannon wanted to read my story when it was printed and I had an email from her first thing this morning that she thought it was well done.
As a small-town reporter / editor, you never know what stories might fall into your lap. It's one reason I have always loved what I do.
Halers recall 'day of great joy'
By DONNA CRONK
As a college athlete, 2012 New Castle High School graduate Joel Haler was in great physical shape. Yet he suddenly found his legs totally paralyzed one October day in 2013.
Doctors and rounds of testing yielded no apparent medical reason for the paralysis. True, he has degenerative disc disease, diagnosed at age 14, and heard a pop in his back before the paralysis. But those things did not explain to medical professionals why he suddenly could not move or feel his legs.
Yet three months later, on Jan. 23, he woke up, felt excruciating pain run through his legs, and then, he could walk again.
Joel’s story has been told in The Courier-Times as well as in big-media platforms such as Inside Edition and Guideposts magazine. On Tuesday, the internationally-viewed Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) arrived in New Castle to unpack the story with Joel’s parents, Karen and Eric Haler, and his brother, Abraham. A sister, Rebekah, was unable to be there.
CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland interviewed Joel separately as he is pursuing a master’s degree in divinity at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California.
Joel offered an update on how he's doing. These days, he’s feeling “perfectly normal and thriving.” When asked how his sudden ability to walk again changed him, Joel said, “It has shaped my worldview into the reality that Jesus is the center of it all. He wants to heal people today and he’s looking for ordinary people to take a risk for him. It has catapulted me into full-time ministry to see his kingdom here.”
Tuesday morning, the CBN producer and two technical professionals set up a remote-location studio in the Halers’ New Castle living room and taped the family’s story. The Halers were asked to speak about Joel’s life before the ordeal. They detailed how their son was never “the best” basketball player, but he had a strong work ethic and drive to always get better. In fact, he holds the state’s third-place all-time record for best 3-point percentage.
At 14, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and often had back pain but worked through it. A scholarship took him to Hope College in Michigan and things were going well until the family got a call that October day of his sophomore year.
Joel told his father that he had heard a loud pop while exercising . Then came tingling toes and leg pain. An MRI found nothing wrong. But the next morning, his legs were completely paralyzed.
A physical therapist friend expressed real concern for Joel. Eric decided to go get his boy. When Joel’s friends placed his wheelchair in the truck for the ride back to New Castle, Eric recalled with tears, “His legs were dangling. That’s when it hit hard for me.”
Joel spent 11 days in the hospital where doctors had no explanation for why he couldn’t walk. But Eric recalls his son’s faith that he would walk again. He left college and moved back in with his folks, dependent on a wheelchair. His mother could see he was not himself.
“I could just tell it was eating at him,” she said.
The producer said Joel told her in an interview, '“He just gave it to God. Jesus came in and really did a major work.”'
“His faith was going to a whole new level,” Eric added.
Karen said she always believed her son would walk again, but didn’t want his expectations to be shattered. “We’ve seen prayers answered the way we would not want them to be answered,” she said.
Then some mysterious things happened. Joel had a dream that involved a calendar with J23 on it. A little boy at New Covenant Church where Eric is pastor, told Joel on a Sunday morning he would walk on a Thursday. Eric dreamed that he was on the phone getting Joel admitted to a rehab center when in the dream, Joel walked out of his bedroom.
Then, in the early morning of Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, Joel woke up to severe pain in his legs. Moments later, he was able to walk. Just like that. He got up, made coffee and went to stand in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom. His mother thought it was his brother Abraham, but got a surprise when she heard, “It’s me, Joel.”
The family members burst out of their beds and started hugging, celebrating and crying in awe.
“That was a day of great joy,” Eric said.
Joel has walked ever since.
“There are many people that have reached out to me explaining to me that my story has brought them hope, filled them with joy and allowed them to be touched by the love of Jesus,” Joel said.
He was able to return to college and graduated in 2017 with a major in communications and minor in leadership.
Eric said the healing has demonstrated God’s goodness, adding, "God is still alive and he does great things.”
The 700 Club piece, which will air at an undetermined time within weeks, is the latest in the media attention and speaking opportunities Joel’s experience has generated. He said it has been thrilling to see God move through his story and see people healed, find hope, “and experience a joy that only comes from him.”
It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.