By Jewell Cardwell, Akron Beacon Journal

Jewell Cardwell

Jewell Cardwell

As you read this, dear readers, please know that I’ve already gone.

Through that door marked “retirement.”

I couldn’t leave, however, without not only saying goodbye but sharing with you, in part, what an unimaginable run this has been for me, writing this column.

While I always said this column was never about me, as I write this farewell I’ve now come to terms that it was.

For through the relationships I’ve developed with you over the years, I’ve grown as a person. I know my heart is a lot bigger.

I’ll always be grateful to my editors for allowing me to find my own column voice — that of being a troubadour of sorts for ordinary folks doing extraordinary things; for those who have suffered unspeakable hardships or pain and for those who were always willing to come to their aid; for the marginalized who needed to know they were not forgotten.

I adored the legion of inspiring centenarians who are living their lives with incredible panache, like the stylish 102-year-old woman who refused to give up wearing stilettos, but was conscious of falling so she always used a walker.

The column also afforded me a unique perch to chronicle the arrival of Ohio’s first sextuplets — Isabella, Sophia, Kyle, Logan, Alex and Lucy — born Feb. 26, 2004, at Akron General Medical Center to Jennifer and Keith Hanselman of Cuyahoga Falls.

Hard to believe they’re now 10 years old.

Seemed not that long ago when I did an overnight in their home soon after all of the babies came home from the hospital, and was eyewitness to the village of family, friends and vetted strangers alike who would take shifts every two hours to help bathe, feed, diaper and rock the babies. How else would Mom, Dad and brother Connor ever get some sleep?

Then there were their adopted “grannies” — residents at Haven Homes, an assisted-living facility — who took it upon themselves to do the babies’ laundry.

The Laundry Ladies, as they called themselves, religiously washed the infants’ clothing twice a week for the better part of a year. The fluff-and-fold time was a huge help to the Hanselmans and for the grannies to feel needed.

And never ever will I forget my personal hero, Andy Holcomb — or as I call him “My Andy” — who at 19 was involved in a horrific industrial accident that claimed the lower half of his body, everything below the belly button.

His words “I don’t believe you have to have legs to walk by faith” have never left me; never will.

Clearly, his unbreakable faith inspired community members who, after meeting Andy through this column, rallied to put a wheelchair-accessible addition on his home, complete with a mural on the ceiling, and even furnished it. The Subcontractors Association of Northeast Ohio led the charge.

A few years later when Akron’s Quaid McIver lost both of his legs above the knees in a gruesome workplace accident, again the community, after reading about him here, built a handicapped-accessible addition on his house.

I have been able to celebrate and shine the spotlight on that kind of generosity that always seems to have a ripple effect, giving birth to all manner of good deeds.

Several come to mind:

• The free ride aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s “Polar Express” at Christmastime for seriously ill children and children with parents in the military stationed in harm’s way. The engine that continues to drive this mammoth undertaking is retired Akron Police Sgt. Tom Dye, who does the fundraising, and volunteer extraordinaire Janet Shively, who organizes seamstresses to make colorful fleece blankets, gloves and hats for all of the passengers.

• The Giving Doll Ministry that provides soft-sculpture dolls to suffering children — sick, missing a parent in the military, abused or neglected, near and far.

• The Silent Angel who has taken it upon himself to help people in need who wrote to me, providing washers, refrigerators, stoves and more.

• Rebuilding Together and its small army of volunteers whose noble mission is to keep low-income elderly, disabled or military veteran homeowners safe, warm and dry with much-needed home repairs.

Of course, there were many thigh-slapping, fun times along the way.

Like when I got the bright idea to phone Cleveland’s Blind Center and ask for three visually impaired clients who were diehard avid Indians fans.

The idea was to bring them with me to the brand-new Jacobs Field and write a column based on how they related to the game — drinking in the sounds and smells on game day, something they couldn’t get from radio.

What I had NOT counted on was them loving beer more than baseball.

I found myself not waiting for the seventh-inning stretch as is customary. No, I had to make fast friends with several male ushers to call on what seemed like every few minutes, to take this inebriated trio up and down some very steep steps. And wouldn’t you know the Indians went 11 innings that night.

A similar light bulb went off when Whoopi Goldberg hit the screen in Sister Act.

I’d just phone the convent on the campus of Our Lady of the Elms and arrange to take three of their oldest nuns, who still wore their habits, to the movie. We went by limousine, had a rip-roaring good time. What I hadn’t counted on was this same trio phoning me the following week when A League of Their Own came out and wondering what time I was picking them up. I had great difficulty telling them it was a one-time deal. Even so, we remained friends.

Confession time:

Whenever certain kinds of stories — particularly those involving critically ill babies and children — started to tear at my heartstrings too much, I always found refuge in the company of pre-schoolers and kindergartners who would give me their unique take on life.

Like visiting the preschool at Our Lady of the Elms shortly after Pope Francis was elected. The big news certainly had not been lost on these small fries.

One little girl happily shared just how much in the know she was on the subject: “He does prayers of God. And he has his own way of saying the prayers. And he lives in a white castle somewhere with long, white curtains.”

Just how did he become the pope?

The same, confident 5-year-old had this to say: “Well, when he was a really little boy, he was playing outside one day and he took a walk in the forest. That’s where he found God.” Soon God would ask him “Would you like to be one of my God men?” And the rest we know to be history.

But I digress.

I just want to say to you again, dear readers, just how much you have meant to me.

This has been no ordinary love. I needed to tell you that.

I also need to tell you that this column is being entrusted to the capable hands of my colleague Kim Hone-McMahan, who will take over on May 28. You can reach her at 330-996-3742 or kmcmahan@thebeaconjournal.com.

She has my blessings.

In closing, just know that I wish you a life of love, laughter and joy.

Continue to take care of each other and thanks for the memories.

Gratefully yours, Jewell Cardwell.

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