It's been four months since a freak storm wiped out a sleepy Ohio hollow 300 miles west of here. Wayne Ridenour still can't shake the idea that it's his personal mission to help them pick up the pieces.
"People are always asking me, 'Wayne, why don't you give it up?' Well, I don't give it up because . . . after seeing all these families without homes who lost loved ones so randomly, it was a very emotional thing with me. It seems like everybody else has given up on these people, but I can't give it up," Ridenour explains.
Ridenour, through his "Shady Side, Md. to Shadyside, Ohio Flood Relief," has taken five separate trips to Ohio, providing tens of thousands of dollars worth of water, food, clothing and building supplies. The effort was organized in conjunction with the United Methodist Church of Shady Side.
Now the ex-Marine is trying to breathe new life into the effort by renaming it "Americans Helping Americans . . And Proud." He also has introduced a line of ultra-patriotic merchandise, including T-shirts, sweats and caps streaming with red, white and blue flags. Proceeds from the sales go to the relief effort.
The shirts are available at Teesers Palace in Glen Burnie and Reno's general store in Shady Side. Ridenour hopes to expand his market to Ohio.
Insurance companies, the Red Cross, the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have come and gone, but of the 65 homes destroyed along the Wegee and Pipe Creek hollows outside of Shadyside, none has been replaced and only 16 are being rebuilt, said Gregory Boyd, of the Shadyside Disaster relief center. Twenty-six people died in the flood.
Boyd said Ridenour is the only person in the country still taking up Shadyside's cause.
"I don't know if it's just the kind of man he is or what motivates him.
But what he's done has been very helpful. And I don't think he's gained anything from it other than the feeling that he's doing something to help," Boyd said.
In the past, Ridenour has quixotically insisted that he would not give up until all of the homes were rebuilt. But now he says he just wants to help them finish the 16 homes under construction before winter.
Ridenour got involved in the sister-city relief effort after being struck by a spell of cosmic confusion. Ridenour woke up one stormy morning last June to news broadcasts reporting that the town of Shadyside had been devastated by storms during the night. For one terrible minute, Ridenour thought the CNN broadcast was talking about his own Shady Side.
When he realized the stories were coming from Shadyside, Ohio, he decided it just as well could have been his own hometown that was destroyed and took up the relief cause.
Ridenour's relief effort has twice been in the news, first when a misunderstanding among Ridenour, Secretary of State Winfield Kelly and the Safeway company resulted in the all-donor relief effort being billed $10,000 for food and dry goods from Safeway that Ridenour thought was a donation.
Then a Giant Food attempt to out-do Safeway by donating a truckload of food ended in a bigger disaster. Seventy-five percent of a tractor-trailer load of food had to be thrown away because it was infested with maggots, molds and fruit flies.
Giant admitted it "made a bad call" diverting damaged goods that it normally gives to homeless shelters to Ohio.
Stores interested in carrying the Americans Helping Americans . . . And Proud line of merchandise can contact Ridenour at 268-2533 or at P.O. Box 90, Shady Side, Md. 20764.