Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

By Karissa Minn
The pages of the Salisbury Post sometimes seem darkened with tragedy, greed and violence. But we love when we can brighten them with reminders that hope and kindness still abound in Rowan County. Here are some of the good news stories we got to share in 2011.
• ‘Officer Ian’ meets Salisbury PD, has a successful surgery
As six-year-old Ian Lance underwent surgery for a rare spine condition in March, his fellow police officers sent prayers, well wishes and gifts his way.
“Officer” Ian, who has congenital scoliosis, was sworn in as a China Grove Police officer before the risky procedure. He also was given a tour of the Salisbury Police Department, where he arrested Chief Rory Collins.
Ian’s mother said he would wear a Salisbury police uniform every day and patrol his neighborhood in a motorized police car. The Salisbury Post followed his story for four months, during which Collins continued to keep in touch with him.
Ian’s surgery was successful, and it took away the excruciating pain that he used to feel when he walked. In June, for the first time in his life, he ran.
• Ex-marine becomes a U.S. citizen
This year, Arbe Arbelaez finally became something he thought he was for 29 years — a U.S. citizen.
Arbelaez, 45, had served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, paid taxes for 29 years and been married to an American named Ann for 17 years. He had voted in elections and received unemployment payments.
He found out he wasn’t a citizen when his passport request was halted in 2007. When Arbelaez’ family moved to the United States 45 years ago, his father didn’t list on the citizenship form that he had children.
After three years of calling, faxing, mailing and waiting, Arbelaez finally received his approval letter from U.S. Immigration and Customs at the end of March. He was sworn in as a U.S. citizen just a few days later.
• Vietnam War MIA returns home
More than 40 years after he was listed as missing in action, Sgt. 1st Class Donnie Shue returned home to Kannapolis in April.
His sister, Betty Jones, got a call in 2009 saying Shue’s remains had been identified in Vietnam. He was transported to North Carolina in April, and a memorial service was held in May.
She and two other sisters — Peggy Hinson and her twin, Nancy — had held out hope that the U.S. Army Green Beret was alive all these years. But now they have closure, and Shue’s grave at Carolina Memorial Park in Kannapolis will no longer be empty. “I’ll know where he is,” Jones said.
• Bus driver keeps rolling after 27 years
Living a life of service can mean simply doing something ordinary in an extraordinary way.
For the past 27 years, Emily Snider has been driving a school bus for Faith Elementary. She began when her daughters were young enough to ride along, and now she drives around her grandson. But she calls all of her passengers her children.
Snider greets each of them warmly, knows all of them by name and helps the ones who are disadvantaged. The students say she’s “like family” and call her “the best bus driver ever.”
Snider, who also works as a child nutrition specialist in the school’s cafeteria, can retire in a couple years but doesn’t know if she will. “Children are wonderful creatures,” she said. When they give her a hug, “I’m on top of the world.”
• Couple gives tax refund to teachers
When Geoffrey and Dottie Hoy got a large tax refund in May, they didn’t go on a shopping spree, take a vacation or keep the money in savings.
They gave their refund to 11 teachers to help them buy school supplies, along with two nonprofit organizations to benefit low-income families. The Salisbury couple wrote to the recipients, “If the government does not want to keep it, we decided to distribute it to places that have lost tax dollars.”
A Salisbury Post reporter was covering another story at Knox Middle School when sixth-grade teacher Susan Stubbs opened her check for $600. Stubbs said she was “flabbergasted” and marveled at the perfect timing. Classroom supplies she bought at the beginning of the year had just run out.
• Community buys championship rings for North Rowan athletes
The basketball and track teams at North Rowan High School both won state championships this year, but the students would have had nothing to show for it if the community hadn’t stepped in.
When the school’s booster club didn’t have enough money to cover the expense of 55 championship rings, North Rowan alumni, local businesses, community organizations and churches donated money to buy them.
The rings were given in a ceremony at an October homecoming game. The athletes weren’t the only ones recognized through this effort; each ring was sponsored in memory or in honor of someone.
The sponsorship drive raised $8,000 in about two months and was started by Craig Pierce, owner of Pierce Interiors and a North Rowan graduate.
• Yard sale meets goal for cystic fibrosis research
For more than eight years, Salisbury resident Helen Brown has held a semi-annual yard sale to benefit cystic fibrosis research. Both of her grandchildren have the chronic disease.
Each year, the yard sale grew and so did the money raised. It now takes the effort of more than two dozen volunteers to pull it off.
Brown reached her goal of $100,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in May. But rather than stop there, Brown simply raised the bar to $150,000. She said she’ll keep at it for as long as she can.
• Day of Caring volunteers complete projects
The spirit of community also thrived in September, when about 650 volunteers completed 50 service projects for this year’s annual United Way Day of Caring.
Hundreds of green thumbs helped with landscaping at schools across the county. Other helping hands built a walking track and nature trail at Isenberg Elementary School, a handicap-accessible ramp at the Rowan County Youth Services Bureau and a greenhouse at Corriher-Lipe Middle School.
• Kids get new shoes at Kannapolis Y
About 950 Kannapolis school children were given brand new shoes and socks during an October joint service project led by Samaritan’s Feet.
The Charlotte nonprofit teamed up with 400 Coca-Cola sales representatives, the Cannon Memorial YMCA and Kannapolis Schools to help needy children in the school system.
Coca-Cola employees not only gave each child a fresh pair of socks and shoes, they also washed the children’s feet in an act of humility and service.
• McDonald’s coworkers send girl to prom
Some acts of kindness may touch just one person or family, but those who benefit will never forget them.
Pauletta Karmon got to go to her senior prom at West Rowan High School with the help of two managers at her workplace, the McDonald’s at the Rushco on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Samantha Dodson and Jessica Laws gave Karmon a dress, a corsage and even a date for the special night in May.
The 18-year-old had juggled school and a full-time job for three years, and she said couldn’t afford to go to prom because she needed the money to pay her bills. Karmon said the night left her “filled with joy.”
• Community helps Linda Worth and family stay in their home
In October, Linda Worth needed just $232.56 more to pay her past due gas bill and stay in her Section 8 home, where she cares for her 38-year-old paraplegic son and her 16-year-old niece.
The local community met that need several times over after her story was printed in the Salisbury Post. Within just a few days, they paid all of her bills, not just the $757.56 total owed to Piedmont Natural Gas.
One man bought her broken-down car and agreed to help her get another one. A couple offered to buy a bed for Worth, who was sleeping on a sofa.
Her niece called them angels. Worth called their overwhelming generosity a miracle.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Facebook: Karissa.SalisburyPost