One man's effort to help a family grows amazingly

DAN RODRICKS

February 25, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

Today we'll lay off the heavy stuff and avoid the darker side of life to tell a story that, with any luck, will be a tonic for aching spirits. If you're suffering from the late winter creeps, let me offer a sip of spring.

Vern Morgan told this story the other day and, while I don't think he was looking for a pat on the back, it seems to me he certainly deserves one. He wants other guys to get the credit for what happened, and though that's an admirable thing for Vern to say, there's no way he can divert attention from himself. He's the man who made a good thing happen. We're talking bull-by-the-horns here.

"I'm a bit of an overbearing guy," Vern admits.

And good thing for a family in Perry Hall that he is.

We won't be using the name of this family because one of the children, a teen-age boy, doesn't want his name in the newspaper. He doesn't want to let the world know what's ailing him, doesn't want attention. I'm told that, like his father, the boy has a lot of pride.

So we'll leave it at that, and I'll tell you what I can.

Two years ago, this family in Perry Hall discovered that their youngest boy, then 12, had muscular dystrophy.

After the diagnosis, the boy's parents had everyone else in the family tested. That's how they learned that another son, then 14, also had the disease.

I note here that the boys' mother -- we'll call her Dawn -- works as a cashier in a supermarket.

One day in June 1991, Vern Morgan and his wife, Joanne, pushed a cart full of groceries into the checkout lane where Dawn was working. Joanne, a parochial school teacher, knew Dawn; in fact, she knew the whole family. She'd taught one of the children, and she'd known Dawn and her husband to be interested, active parents who frequently volunteered their time to the school and its students. Good people.

So that day in the supermarket, there were greetings, then Dawn told the Morgans what she had learned just two weeks earlier: Two of her three sons had the same degenerative disease.

Dawn started to weep. Joanne reached across the checkout conveyor and hugged her. Hugged her for a long time. Hugged her so long they had to close the checkout line so Dawn could compose herself.

That's when Vern Morgan decided to do something.

He had one conversation with the boys' father about the eventual need for wheelchair access to the house and the feasibility of converting a rear porch into a large first-floor bedroom for the boys, and he was off and running.

"I grabbed at it," he says. "I said, 'I'm doing it and that's the end of that.' "

It helped that Vern Morgan is in the construction business, and that he has many friends who are suppliers to builders. In a little while, word spread about the project, and donations started coming in -- this at a time when the construction business was stagnant.

John Ringrose, a carpenter, pitched in. So did Joe Simon, an electrician; Jere Danaher, Rocky White and Mark Potter. A&D Plumbing and Heating gave supplies and labor; American Lumber donated the windows; Sinclair Supply gave exterior siding at cost; Belair Road Supply donated the drywall supplies; Ridge Lumber donated a sink and medicine cabinet; Hartford Insulation gave all the insulation that was needed; Jarvis Steel & Lumber gave lumber at cost; Fullerton Supply donated a toilet.

Ernie Paszkiewics, an accountant, handled the money. Dr. Marion Kowalewski and his wife, Phyllis, donated a basket-of-cheer for a raffle.

Working several Sundays during the past year, Vern Morgan and friends enclosed the 24-by-16-foot porch, framed it, installed windows and an exterior door. They lowered the floor and busted through a wall. The job is almost done.

And, even though it's plain to everyone that their conditions are starting to worsen, the two boys have helped.

"They moved lumber and installed some insulation," Vern Morgan says. "They're constantly asking questions about what colors they can use, carpet color, where they're going to put their TV and stereo. They both have something to look forward to that's going to be all theirs. There's a light in their eyes now. . . ."

A light in their eyes.

Way to go, Vern.

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