The Good Stuff: Heartwarming stories you might have missed this year

  • Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Nearly 1,000 patients received free dental care during the Missions for Mercy Project held at Catawba College’s Goodman Gym earlier this year. The program is part of the NC Dental Society’s outreach program offering free dental care for those who can’t afford it.
Nearly 1,000 patients received free dental care during the Missions for Mercy Project held at Catawba College’s Goodman Gym earlier this year. The program is part of the NC Dental Society’s outreach program offering free dental care for those who can’t afford it.

Despite tragic car accidents, devastating fires and unspeakable crimes, 2013 was filled with plenty of “good stuff.”

The pages of the Post shared stories of people rising above adversity and those who willingly gave of their time and money to makes life better for others.


Here’s a look back at some of the stories that pulled at our heartstrings this year.

Smiles overwhelm Salisbury’s two-day dental clinic

It’s hard to imagine now, but by late tonight, Goodman Gymnasium will return to what it’s supposed to be — a gymnasium.

For the past two days, this Catawba College venue has resembled a massive MASH unit, filled with 80 dental stations and patients receiving free care for fillings, cleanings, extractions and partial plates.

Besides making the heart feel good, the clinic literally puts a smile on the nearly 1,000 people served and 800-plus volunteers — professionals, students and otherwise.

“It’s a remarkable spirit of caring,” said Nick Langdon, a volunteer from First Presbyterian Church. “You can almost feel it in the air.”

You know how people sometimes camp out for tickets to concerts, athletic contests or the latest smart phones. That seems pretty lame compared to folks who camp out for their teeth and the chance to attend one of these Missions of Mercy dental clinics, an outreach program of the N.C. Dental Society.

This is the first MOM Clinic ever held in Salisbury, and it’s been about three years in the making. The impetus came from Dr. Jim Dunkin of First Presbyterian Church and Salisbury dentist Dr. David Mayberry.

Then hundreds of people ended up jumping on board.

“This was our dream to get it here,” said a happy Debbie Hill, coordinator of the dental program at Salisbury Community Care Clinic. “Everybody has pitched in, one way or the other.”

Dunkin’s inspiration for the clinic came from his daughter Christina, a dental student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She had volunteered at previous MOM clinics, as had Mayberry.

“It’s wonderful they’re doing this,” Aundrea Hathaway said late Friday morning, waiting for a chair to open so a dentist could fill a couple of her teeth.

“It’s a blessing.”

Hathaway, who lives in Salisbury, acknowledged she often has panic attacks when and if she goes to the dentist, yet she obtained a number Thursday night and slept in her car near Catawba College’s Newman Park.

Early Friday morning, she was in line with hundreds of others going through the various stations until she reached a dentist on the gymnasium floor, which was covered completely in sturdy yellow plastic.

She could not afford a trip to a dentist, otherwise, Hathaway said.

“I don’t know for a fact,” she added, “but I heard there was someone (waiting) here Wednesday — a man from Raleigh.”

— Mark Wineka, Sept. 28

‘Aunt Rose’ has a heart of gold

NORTH KANNAPOLIS — Rosella “Aunt Rose” Caldwell automatically sets aside about $800 a month for her causes — and there are plenty.

When school is in session, the 94-year-old woman sends $25 to $50 of “spending change” to college students who attend her church, Sandy Ridge AME Zion in Landis. Most times, there are 12 to 16 students she is mailing money to monthly.

“That’s religiously,” confirms sister-in-law Margaret Caldwell, one of Aunt Rose’s foot soldiers, “because we go to the bank and see the money.”

Aunt Rose also writes checks and puts them into handwritten cards for shut-ins and church members who have been sick. She’ll pay for groceries and make sure they are delivered to needy families.

Caldwell once adopted a family for 20 years, buying it groceries almost every week. On Tuesdays for 25 years, Aunt Rose cooked at her late mother’s house in Landis and dished out 25 dinners of fried chicken, sweet potato pie, cornbread and pinto beans to whomever would stop by.

“She truly is leaving a lasting legacy to mankind,” friend Marian Harris says.

— Mark Wineka, June 24

Over five decades, Gobbles bridge

eras for Miller’s Ferry department

The Gobble brothers are more “dino”-mite than dinosaurs. Though each has been a volunteer with Miller’s Ferry Fire Department for more than 50 years, they remain an integral part of their community’s firefighting and emergency responder efforts.

Larry Gobble, 71, just recently won the 2012 “Chief’s Award” from Miller’s Ferry Fire Chief Bobby Fox. Brother Don, 67, and younger brother Mike, 63, accuse Larry of out-and-out brown-nosing.

And so it goes.

But on a more serious note, the Gobble brothers represent the kind of dedication that has built volunteer fire departments throughout Rowan County.

When the Gobbles talk about the old days, you appreciate how far rural departments have come in terms of training, communications, coverage and equipment.

But you also grasp what the firefighting fraternity means to them.

“If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be here,” Larry Gobble says.

— Mark Wineka, Feb. 3

Salon pampers homeless shelter guests with free haircuts

David Abbott walked out of Salisbury Salon and Spa feeling like a new man.

Homeless for the past two years, Abbott lives at Rowan Helping Ministries and said he rarely can afford to have his hair cut. He was thrilled to learn that salon owner Leslie Stopper was offering free haircuts, manicures and pedicures to shelter guests all day.

“I couldn’t wait to get over here and do it,” said Abbott, one of more than a dozen shelter guests who crowded the salon Wednesday morning. “Maybe with that, I can get a good job.”

Men, women and children who call Rowan Helping Ministries home while they get back on their feet visited, laughed and gave the occasional contented sigh as Stopper’s staff pampered them.

“We want them to feel good about themselves,” said Stopper, who provided 72 coupons to the shelter for free beauty treatments.

Salisbury Salon and Spa, which opened recently at 210 E. Innes St. in downtown Salisbury, isn’t the only salon giving back by giving free hair cuts.

Barber Tracy Yelverton and his wife Vickie Yelverton pack up their scissors, clippers and combs at least once a month and go to the shelter to keep guests looking good and well-coiffed.

“It’s just something that I wanted to do, as far as giving back to the community,” Tracy said. “I’m just doing it to give back and inspire people. If they have low self-esteem, this can help them.”

Looking good and feeling good about yourself can make a difference, said Jessica Grimes, who lives in the shelter with her two children. Grimes enjoyed a pedicure Wednesday while 8-year-old Gage had his hair cut and 5-year-old Keeleigh marveled at her newly polished nails.

“I live paycheck to paycheck,” Grimes said. “I can’t afford to do anything like this for myself and my kids. This is a treat and luxury that we can’t afford.”

— Emily Ford, Nov. 29

Grandfather jumps at chance to skydive with granddaughter

When Heather Ellis told her grandfather she was going to jump out of an airplane, she didn’t expect him to offer to tag along.

But that’s exactly what 72-year-old Kenneth Wallace did to celebrate his granddaughter’s 30th birthday. Both are Landis residents and first-time skydivers.

“I said I wanted to do it, and he said, ‘Would you want me to go with you?’” Ellis said. “I thought he was joking at first, of course, but he wasn’t.”

Wallace said he asked if Ellis’ mother or father would be joining her, and she told him they wouldn’t jump.

“I think she caught me at a weak moment,” Wallace said, chuckling. “I didn’t want her to go by herself.”

Ellis said her grandfather has always been by her side to support her, especially when she was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 3. Fortunately, doctors caught it early, and she has been cancer-free since she entered remission the next year.

— Sept. 3

‘Unusual friendship’ sparks hope for a former homeless veteran

Leonard Wynn woke up on the cold hardwood floors in the living room of his new apartment Saturday morning.

It beats strange porches and beneath overpasses, he said.

For years, Wynn has survived as a homeless Army veteran in Salisbury.

But this morning, the 47-year-old will wake up on a twin-size bed.

His living room is now furnished with chairs, a table, a simmering crock pot filled with vegetable soup and a red, white and blue Christmas tree — all of it, organizers said, the product of an “unusual friendship” between Wynn and an 18-year-old student at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Brandon Crouch, a first-year student at the college, met Wynn in an English class. Both are in pursuit of automotive mechanic degrees.

Crouch’s teacher, the teenager said, gave him a project on homelessness when his classmate spoke up, “Ya’ll know, I’ve been homeless for a while, right?”

“Leonard got to talking and said in the next couple of days I’ll be moving into a small little place,” Crouch recalled. “I figured with him just moving in, he probably didn’t have any money for anything so I thought it’d be nice to get him some stuff.”

As pickup trucks packed with volunteers and furniture pulled up outside Wynn’s apartment just off Fulton Street on Saturday, Wynn said he was “stunned.”

“I didn’t think he was listening,” Wynn said of Crouch, “but he heard me.”

— Nathan Hardin, Dec. 22

Community grants terminally-ill mother’s wish to take her children to Disney World

For a bundled up Cheryl Wyrick, the muggy, upper 80-degree temperatures of Disney World must have been draining.

But she didn’t let it get her down, friends said. In fact, the 28-year-old cancer-stricken mom refused to not have the time of her life.

At one point, neighbor and sister-in-law Crystal Casper recalled, Wyrick put her head on the column of her motorized cart between the rows of humming tourists and slept for an hour.

She wouldn’t go back to the room.

“She tried to stick it out and push as hard as she could because it was something that she really, really wanted to do and to make sure she had that time with the kids and could do it all with them,” Casper said.

The Wyricks spent five days at the Magic Kingdom. The start of Cheryl’s first family vacation began with her first plane ride. The trip was funded more by than $20,000 donated to send her, her two kids and husband Daniel to Orlando.

Cheryl asked for the trip when she was re-diagnosed with an aggressive stomach cancer that she thought she had beaten the year before.

Note: Cheryl Wyrick died less than two weeks after returning from her Disney vacation.

— Nathan Hardin, March 9

Salisbury 4-year-old is new Mensa member

Rowan County is officially home to a 4-year-old genius.

Michael Wimmer, who lives near High Rock Lake in Salisbury, has been accepted as one of the youngest members of Mensa International, a high-IQ society.

“We’re really proud he was able to have the intellect for that,” said his father, Mark. “You want your kids to do better than you, but we just didn’t expect it to happen at 4.”

His mother, Melissa, said she screamed with joy when the letter came, and Michael agreed, “she was acting crazy.”

“And what did you tell Daddy?” Melissa said.

Michael grinned, threw out his hands and said, “I got into smart club!”

Mark said he applied for Michael’s membership to Mensa because it provides resources for gifted children and their parents. Kids can access age-appropriate advanced reading lists, take online lessons, join educational field trips and connect with others of similar interests.

The international society requires that its members score in at least the 98th percentile for their age group on a standardized intelligence test.

When he was still 3 years old, Michael scored in the 99th percentile on a test administered by a state psychologist. That could mean he has an IQ of anywhere from about 140 to 160, Mark said. An IQ of 100 is meant to represent an average score.

— March 15

Furloughed federal employee finds good use for his time — volunteering

The first day, Bruce Rider mowed the lawn.

The second day, he cleaned out the garage.

The third day, Rider told himself he had to start making better use of his time.

So he drove over to the Elizabeth H. Dole American Red Cross Chapter and asked Roy Beam, disaster team co-coordinator for Rowan and Cabarrus counties, to put him to work.

Beam and Rider readied materials for the Red Cross’ tent for the annual Autumn Jubilee, where they will be distributing disaster preparation kits and information.

Rider is an area resource conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agency employs 153 people in the state, including eight in Salisbury’s area office covering 31 counties.

To put it simply, Rider is a federal employee who has been placed on furlough by the government shutdown.

“I said, ‘Nah, they’re not going to shut down the government,’ ” Rider recalls of how he felt heading into last weekend.

But they did, and instead of moping and piddling around his house, Rider decided it was a perfect opportunity to put in more volunteer hours for his favorite nonprofit — the American Red Cross.

“There are so many things you could get involved with,” Rider says. “You just got to do it, whether you’re on furlough or not.”

— Mark Wineka, Oct. 6

65-year-old great-grandmother among Livingstone graduates

When she decided to earn a college degree, 65-year-old Vernell McCullough wanted the complete undergraduate experience.

She enrolled in day classes at Livingstone College, not the evening program favored by most nontraditional students.

She ate in the cafeteria, walked to classes and struggled with homework.

McCullough even lived in the dorms for two years.

“I wanted to make a change,” she says simply, explaining why a great-grandmother and associate AME Zion pastor from Rock Hill, S.C. would not only go back to college in her seventh decade but subject herself to dorm life.

McCullough’s unusual path would prove a wise choice. She didn’t know it at the time, but her decision to enroll in the religious studies program at Livingstone and live in the residence halls, surrounded by women in their teens and early 20s, would provide the strength and support she would need in her darkest hours.

Tears streamed down McCullough’s cheeks when she emerged from Varick Auditorium, diploma in hand and great-granddaughter Mellody Richardson, 8 months old, in her arms.

Tears of joy but also tears of sorrow, McCullough said, as she remembered her teenage grandsons, Kelvin Richardson and big brother Matthew Richardson — Mellody’s father — who died Nov. 18, 2012 in a car accident in South Carolina.

McCullough earned her degree, she said, for them.

Businesses, community answer veteran’s despair over slashed tires

Gary Webb’s pickup has four new tires, a new starter and one appreciative owner, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

The folks at Discount Tire and ABC Towing combined to help Webb, a 55-year-old Army veteran and nine-year survivor of throat cancer. So many others offered their assistance, too, that Webb couldn’t believe it.

“I just don’t know what to say,” he said Wednesday afternoon from the one-room cottage he rents at Melba Court.

You might remember Webb as the down-on-his-luck veteran who woke up Sunday morning, walked out his front door and quickly realized the four tires on his Mazda pickup had been slashed.

Living on $710 a month in disability, Webb had just bought the Mazda B2000 pickup in late August for $2,000. He planned on renewing his driver’s license and relying on the truck to get him to places such as the grocery store and his appointments at the Hefner VA Medical Center.

— Mark Wineka, Sept. 12

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