A look at the “good stuff” from 2012

Jon C. Lakey/Salisbury Post
Sean Summer gives one of his customer’s dogs a bath. Summer is physically disabled and has overcome many obstacles to open his own dog kennel, Animal House, on Statesville Boulevard.
Jon C. Lakey/Salisbury Post Sean Summer gives one of his customer’s dogs a bath. Summer is physically disabled and has overcome many obstacles to open his own dog kennel, Animal House, on Statesville Boulevard.

People can get weary when they pick up the newspaper to see death and destruction sprawled across front page.

Tragic car accidents, devastating fires, brutal murders and unthinkable crimes are increasingly becoming part of every day life and in turn part of our news pages.


But there are still plenty of positive stories to report and those stories tend to stick in our memories far longer.

They are the kind of stories that make our hearts swell and our eyes well up with tears.

The kind of stories we share with family during dinner and strangers while waiting in line at the grocery store.

We copy and paste the links into emails and hit the send button as a reminder that there is far more good in the world than evil.

And some are cut out and stuck to the refrigerator to add a ray of hope on dark days.

Here is some of the good news Post reporters have shared with our readers during 2012:

Sean Summer overcomes disabilities to run his own business

Physically disabled from birth, Sean Summer suffers from Goldenhar syndrome, a rare congenital defect that causes deformities of the face.

In his 28 years, Sean has endured more than 20 surgeries and months in the hospital. He speaks with an impediment and walks with a limp. He hears only with the help of a high-tech aid anchored in his skull.

Yet Sean refuses to let his disabilities slow him down.

Mentally sharp and determined to live independently, the Concord native has opened a dog and cat boarding facility at 2235 Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury called Animal House.

Business has tripled since he opened the kennel in 2010, as Sean parlays his lifelong love for dogs and cats into a career that relies on his qualities of patience and perseverance, regardless of craniofacial features.

“The animals, they don’t care what you look like,” Sean said. “As long as you take care of them and play with them, they’ll love you.”

Despite his disabilities, Sean was popular in school with a sense of humor that won him many friends.

“Sean has the best personality ever,” said his mother Kathy. “You would think that someone who has been through as much as he has been through would be shy and introverted and not as capable.

“Sean deals with more challenges in one day than most of us do in a lifetime. He’s my hero because he doesn’t let that hold him back. He never did.”

Sean completed high school in four years, even though he had an operation every summer. He attended Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, then transferred to Pfeiffer University

But after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history, he had a hard time finding a job because his endurance doesn’t allow him to work a typical eight- or 10-hour shift.

He attended a seminar on small businesses, and the idea for a dog kennel began to come together.

In 2011, Sean’s parents bought the house on Statesville Boulevard. They spent months renovating the property, turning the large garage into a kennel and fencing in two exercise areas.

Sean lives on site and works a split shift, four hours in the morning and four in the evening, giving him time to rest in the middle of the day. The kennel is open seven days a week.

He wrote the business plan and designed the facility to meet his needs, as well as those of his customers.


Three deaf friends reunited in America following adoptions

Three deaf boys who lived in an orphanage in Tianjin, China were reunited in a strange turn of events.

In 2008, Sun Bin Fang was adopted by an American couple and given the name of Ben. He was happy, but sad too, because he had to say goodbye to his friends at the Children’s Welfare Institute, knowing he’d never see them again.

A year and a half later, in 2009, the second of the trio of friends, Wu Ye, was adopted by an American couple and became Eddie.

Eddie was happy to be adopted, but he worried about Zhen Sen being alone without him.

Eddie’s interpreter at school told his parents that she knew another family who had adopted a deaf boy from China and wondered if they wanted her to set up a meeting.

As the boys saw each other, each signed the good news: “That’s my best friend from the orphanage.”

They discovered they lived only 25 minutes apart. Eddie was in Marshville in Union County and Ben was in Concord.

In April of 2011, Lisa and Gary Frank of China Grove flew to China to get Zhen Sen.

Lisa had learned American Sign Language in 2002 and later began a ministry for the deaf at Blackwelder Park Baptist Church.

It was there that she heard about the miraculous reunion of Ben and Eddie.

When Lisa learned about their friend who remained at the orphanage, she and Gary began praying for a family to adopt him.

After a month of praying, she says, “God made it clear as day” what they needed to do.

They were to adopt Eddie’s friend.

Lisa and Gary embarked on a nine-month long process to assemble the necessary paperwork.

After Lisa and Gary received approval to adopt, they sent Chet — that was to be his name — a package of goodies and photos introducing him to his “forever family.”

When their flight landed in Charlotte, he spotted Ben and Eddie down the steps to baggage claim.

“I believe he missed every step to get to them,” Lisa said. “He just ran and hugged them.”


Friends acted quickly to save teen who dove into lake

Gavin Littleton is still alive to today thanks to friends who responded quickly when he was critically injured after a diving accident at High Rock Lake in August.

Nick Cornacchione, Thomas Tucker, Zack Lemmon and Dakota Honeycutt have received the Ernest Curtis Hero Award from the Civitan Club of Salisbury.

Lemmon pulled Littleton, a sophomore at North Rowan High School, from the water after he attempted to make a shallow dive off a pontoon boat into High Rock Lake, but instead went straight down.

Cornacchione gave him CPR, a skill he learned while earning his lifesaving merit badge with Boy Scout Troop 401, immediately following the accident, while Tucker drove the boat to seek help from a fisherman with a faster vessel. Honeycutt called 911.

“These kids are heroes,” said Gavin’s grandmother, Karen Littleton. “Their quick thinking and action and working together saved Gavin’s life.”

Littleton, who was paralyzed in the accident, spent several months at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries, before returning home in October.

He has regained his ability to sit up, talk, eat and has been attending classes at North Rowan.

Woman gets to see son graduate days before succumbing to illness

With a little help, Jesse Pinkston fulfilled his mother’s dying wish.

Harriet Pinkston saw her son graduate from North Rowan High School just days before succumbing to illness.

Like most high school graduations, the ceremony featured a cap and gown, diploma and an inspirational speech.

But it wasn’t in a large auditorium packed with cheering families. It was inside the chapel at Rowan Regional Medical Center.

“She has always said her one desire was to see her son graduate,” said Dr. Amy Wilson, who treated Harriet for eight years. “When it became apparent she was not going to get better, the question became, what can we do to make that happen?”

After doctors determined Harriet’s contain was incurable, her husband, Steve, went to work to pull together the graduation ceremony in just three days.

She had suffered an array of health problems her entire adult life and had fought back death three times.

Harriet watched the brief ceremony from a wheeled hospital recliner.

Unable to speak but alert, Harriet wiped her eyes and clasped husband’s hand.


Hospice features four-legged resident

A brown-eyed, four-legged beauty named Semper Fi moved into Building 42 of the Hefner VA Medical Center this year.

The 2-year-old Labrador retriever-beagle mix spent more than six months training for the day when she would be on her own as the facility’s hospice dog.

The big challenge for Fi was adapting to and being obedient to many different people — hospice patients, staff and the visitors coming to the building.

Semper Fi owes her name to the Marine motto, Latin for “always faithful.” She’s known simply as Fi.

With a directive to find a hospice therapy dog for the VA, Nina Dix, Fi’s owner and trainer, visited animal shelters in Rowan, Davidson and Cabarrus counties, looking for a particular softness and easy-going disposition. She also wanted a fairly young dog who could be a fixture at the hospice for many years.

“She has this calmness about her,” Dix says. “You see every dog in her.”

Dix especially likes that she is training Fi for veterans, many of whom have given up their own dogs as their health has deteriorated.

“Everything we have we owe to veterans,” Dix says. “This is nothing compared to the feeling I get out of it.”

Fi bonded with hospice patient Frank Burns quickly.

“I can’t wait to have her around all the time,” he said.


Marine’s resolve places World War II Purple Heart in family’s hands

Lynn White Polasit wept under the carport of her China Grove Home as staff Sgt. Daniel Stoy of the U.S. Marine Corps presented her with a Purple Heart that had been awarded to late Uncle Olin White 69 years earlier.

When Debera Allen found the Purple Heart in a box of memorabilia at her Jacksonville home, it was clear after she contacted everybody in her family that no one knew the name engraved on the back.

Allen connected with the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Stoy, sergeant at arms for the group and an active-duty Marine, volunteered to find a rightful owner for the medal.

The box that held the medal contained an important clue.

The birth date for Olin Hughes White and the information that he died on the USS Drexler May 28, 1945, at 7:03 a.m. was written on the back of a high school graduation card

It took Stoy two weeks to make the connection to Polasit, who lives four-and-a-half hours away from him.

The key break came when he found a Facebook page for a USS Drexler survivors’ reunion.

Polasit had no idea the Purple Heart existed.

It had been awarded to Olin White in 1943 for injuries he received while serving as a yeoman on the USS MacKenzie. While the MacKenzie, a destroyer, was providing artillery support for troops landing on the coast of Sicily, it received fire from enemy planes.

“How they found me is just an amazing process,” Polasit said. “My brother said, ‘Is this for real?’”

Polasit hopes she can pass down the medal to her children and grandchildren.

“I can’t explain it, this is awesome,” she said.


Cornerstone Church buys former West Rowan YMCA

Many were happy to hear of Cornerstone Church Pastor Bill Godair’s plan to breathe new life into the former West Rowan YMCA.

“I’m excited somebody has taken an interest in that building,” said Cleveland resident Cindy Childs.

The 46,000- square-foot facility at 603 E. Main St. had been vacant for more than five years before the church purchased it for $25,000 at the end of September.

Godair plans to reopen it as a sports, education and cultural center to serve the community.

The church plans to invest a total of $100,000 on upkeep and renovations within the first year of ownership.

And that members are already making good on that promise. They’ve logged about 7,000 hours cleaning and renovating and spent $50,000 on everything from filling in the swimming pool to painting every surface in sight.

Godair hopes to work with various nonprofit groups to bring their services to the western part of the county.

“We want people to know it’s not about Cornerstone; this is about blessing this community,” Godair said. “If they do work on this side of the county and need space, we’re willing to talk to them.”

Military couples adopt bomb-sniffing dogs that served in Iraq

Two military families opened up their homes and hearts in June to dogs that ended up in the Rowan County Animal Shelter.

After a lengthy process that included applications, references and home visits, yellow Labradors Woody and Raka, the retired explosive-detection dogs surrendered in April to the shelter who were awaiting new homes at Faithful Friends Animal Sanctuary, were both adopted.

Brandon and his wife AnnaLacey, newlyweds who live in Rockwell, adopted Woody, 7.

Air Force veteran Steve and Kathy Matis of Charlotte welcomed Raka, 9.

When the Matises lost their eight-year-old yellow Labrador, Tucker, in February to a sudden illness, the couple began searching for another Lab.

After seeing online videos of Woody and Raka, they knew the search had ended.

“With my military background, I felt a connection to these dogs,” said Steve, who served four years active duty with the Air Force in the 1990s, then with the Air National Guard.

Brandon had never had a dog. Suddenly, he wanted to adopt two 100-pound Labs.

“I fell in love with both of them instantly,” he said. “I’ve never really had a dog that I’ve bonded with. But when they said we could adopt Woody, we’ve been best friends ever since.”

Volunteers work to restore Royal Giants Park to glory days

Earlier this year, volunteers spent months painting, cleaning and beautifying Royal Giants Park in East Spencer.

The park, which used to be the home of the all-black baseball team the Royal Giants, fell into disrepair and disuse until town officials began the cleanup in March.

“I think in the next two years, we could bring the park back to what it was,” Mayor Barbara Mallett said in April.

The mayor and several aldermen said they want to open the pool, which has been sitting dry and empty for years.

“If that’s not up and running, it will be some type of water activity,” Mallett said. “It might be a splash pad.”

The park’s grounds were cleaned and its plants trimmed. The baseball field was freshly weeded and mowed.

Mallett said she hopes the field will soon host tee-ball, baseball, softball and basketball games.

Pro Tem Curtis Cowan said the revamped park will give kids a place to go when school’s out.

“I want kids off the street and into the park,” he said.

Alderwoman Tammy Corpening said the community is willing to join together to support the park.

“I’m happy that we’re all on the same page,” she said. “For so long, the park was neglected. Now we’ve got a group of people together who are willing to invest in it.”


Trio works to revitalize advertising signs on buildings

Michael Alexander, Justin Dionne and Nassar Farid Mufdi Ruiz had always noticed old advertisements on brick walls throughout Salisbury and thought how great it would be to restore each one of them.

They began working to make it happen in October 2011.

Alexander and Mufdi took photographs and inventoried all the “ghost signs” they could find in the downtown while Dionne lined up a presentation to the Public Art Committee.

With time, the signs had faded into walls and become apparitions of the products or businesses they once advertised.

The men also laid out plans for the first two ghost sign restorations, obtained a financial gift from Coca-Cola Bottling in Charlotte and received a facade grant and the necessary approvals from city boards.

The friends hope these first two signs are a catalyst for more.

“We’re not the experts, just the executors,” said Dionne.

The men, all under the age of 30, see their collaboration on the ghost sign restorations as a way for them to make a difference in Salisbury.

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