Erwin student's T-shirts honor grandmother

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
Kennedy Lambert always found it hard to say goodbye to her grandmother, Jo Ann Werner, who was simply “maw maw” to her.
“When I was younger, like 6 or 7, I’d be kicking and crying because I didn’t want to leave her house,” says Kennedy, now 14 and a student at Erwin Middle School.
In February, Kennedy still didn’t want to say goodbye, but this time, she didn’t have a choice.
Jo Ann, who had been fighting ovarian cancer for 11 years, had a heart attack while undergoing a chemotherapy treatment and did not survive. Her husband, Martin, who had just had his own chemo treatment for multiple myeloma, was holding her hand when she died at the age of 61.
Her death was particularly hard on Kennedy, who had an unusually close bond with Jo Ann.
April Lambert, Kennedy’s mother, acknowledges that her daughter has had a hard time handling the loss.
Kennedy sleeps in one of her maw maw’s robes, and she keeps a sock monkey her maw maw gave her close at hand.
In January, Kennedy had done a painting in Leslie Hudson-Tolles’ art class that featured the word “hope” and a cancer awareness ribbon. Kennedy was planning to have the design put on a T-shirt to give it to her grandmother.
Knowing how hard Kennedy was grieving, April got the idea to use Kennedy’s design on T-shirts as a tribute to Jo Ann and to raise money for Relay for Life.
To get the ball rolling, April got in touch with her father, who lives in Ohio and does screen printing, and he agreed to make the T-shirts.
Kennedy wanted the shirts to be just right. For the back of the T-shirt, she took her brother’s suggestion that they include the word “hope,” with a definition.
April figures that Kennedy’s grandfather sent five or six emails for “artist approval” until Kennedy was satisfied that the T-shirt looked just right.
The first order of 85 shirts was shipped early in April, and Kennedy was overjoyed when she saw the final product. That night, orders began pouring in after people saw the photos posted on Facebook.
To date, the family has sold more than 200 shirts for $15 each, with the profits going to Relay for Life. Jo Ann participated in the Survivor Walk every year she was able to, April says.
Jo Ann never let her cancer — which was stage 4 when she was diagnosed — stop her from enjoying her life and her family.
“She was just an amazing person,” says Kennedy, who spent a lot of time with Jo Ann, playing games, doing puzzles and cooking. Her maw maw’s food was “not comparable to anything I’ve ever eaten,” Kennedy says.
Jo Ann’s family also remembers her for her quirky phrases and saying: “tighter than Dickie’s hatband” and “wound up like a bull in a china closet.”
Kennedy notes that Jo Ann loved to play Farmville on Facebook — and got upset when some of her grandchildren, including Kennedy, began neglecting their Farmville crops.
After getting them to share their Facebook passwords with her, she promptly began to take care of all their crops, Kennedy says.
Her nurturing went far beyond taking care of crops in cyberspace.
The day after Kennedy got her braces, her grandmother showed up at school with applesauce and mashed potatoes so that Kennedy would have something to eat.
Any little wish Kennedy had was immediately priority one for Jo Ann, April notes.
When it’s brought up that her maw maw kind of spoiled her, Kennedy quickly agrees. “Rotten,” she adds.
She loved to see her grandchildren play sports and even if she was weak from chemo, she would show up at the games to cheer them on, April says.
She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, either, Kennedy says, sharing a story about how she and her grandmother were in Walmart and Kennedy accidentally bumped into another shopper.
Although Kennedy apologized, the woman continued to scowl and look at Jo Ann as if to say, “Can’t you control that child?”
Kennedy laughs when she remembers what Jo Ann said in her defense.
“What do you want me to do — slit her and give you a pint of her blood?”
It’s clear when Kennedy reminisces about her maw maw how strong their bond was and how much Kennedy is grieving her loss.
“She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known,” Kennedy says. “She taught me to never give up.”
• • •
If you’re interested in ordering a T-shirt, you can email April Lambert ataprillambert@carolina.rr. com.

What:?Relay for Life of Rowan County
When:?Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday, and the event lasts through Saturday morning.
Where:?Rowan County fairgrounds, 1560 Julian Road.
What else:?Relay for Life raises money for the American Cancer Society, celebrates cancer survivors and remembers those whose lives have been claimed by the disease.
This year’s event includes 116 teams with 1,144 members who will walk laps throughout the night to raise money. The event also offers food, games and entertainment.
Admission is free, but organizers ask people attending to donate a canned food item, which goes to China Grove Mission.