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UNSUNG SAINTS

’TIS THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN. HERE ARE SEVEN WHO DO UNTO OTHERS ALL YEAR LONG.
By Richard West |

Merry Christmas! Well, yes, but for most of us a more appropriate holiday platitude is, “1 want, therefore I am.” All together now, “Tis the season to be grasping, fa la la la la, la la Botega.” Oh, and by the way, happy birthday, Jesus. Luckily, some of our fellow citizens don’t suffer from disordered priorities. We honor here seven Dallasites who live the spirit of Christmas-Christ’s message personified-not just on Christmas, but during the 8,760 hours of every year. They are volunteers whose selfless actions provide others in great need with a grappling hook to haul themselves up from their misfortune. Each person embodies one of the seven ancient virtues: Faith. Hope. Charity. Justice. Fortitude. Prudence. Temperance. Of course Dallas has more than seven altruists; we are lucky to have well-known community saints like Father Jerry Hill, who runs The Stewpot where the homeless get a free meal; Charles Kemp, who tirelessly works to make a better life for newly arrived Asians; Thelma Boston and Birdy Jackson, who care for severely retarded kids in their homes. But here we celebrate seven who are largely unknown and anonymous, people who give and expect nothing but personal satisfaction and the knowledge that they make a difference where it counts. “The good received, the giver is forgot,” declared William Congreve. Not this time.

FAITH:“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

-Hebrews 11:1



There was no history of muscular dystrophy in Rose Mary Kennedy’s family when her son, Shawn, contracted the illness at age seven. Shortly (hereafter, she learned that her twin boys, Jeff and Jason, age four, also had M.D. The disease is characterized by the inexorable wasting away of the muscles, which weaken and turn to fat. Victims have a peculiar difficulty in relaxing their muscles after effort. When he was ten. Shawn began to lose the ability to walk; at twelve, he was confined to a wheelchair until bis death two years ago at twenty. Despite his illness, Shawn graduated from high school and attended two semesters at the University of Texas at Austin before having to return home. He continued his education at Brookhaven Community College. During the last year of his life, Shawn was a volunteer at the M.D. office. Jeff and Jason, now nineteen, have been in wheelchairs for seven years. Rose Mary Kennedy has worked as a volunteer for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (M.D.A.) for sixteen years while caring for her sons, husband, and six other healthy children. She is president of the M.D.A.’s Women’s Committee and helps raise money for medical supplies, clothes, food, and funeral expenses for other M.D. families.

“There is no known cause nor cure of M.D. and 1 know my twins are expected to die in their twenties.” said Kennedy, who describes herself as just “one of thousands” trying to help the handicapped. “None of us has guarantees in this life. Cod has the answers and what is meant to be will be. Some good has come from this. Two of my daughters are getting their master’s degrees in social work and another is in her third year in medical school because of M.D. in our family. You have to have faith that all is not lost and just do your best.”

HOPE: “My turn hope is. a sun will pierce/The thickest cloud earth ever stretched.”

-Robert Browning



At age sixty-six. Geneva Hill, already partially deaf, learned from her doctor that she was going blind. She had limited financial resources. Her daughter and two sisters had families and responsibilities of their own. After a sleepless night, she thought of the Dallas Lighthouse For The Blind. Not yet legally blind, she could not become a client, but she could volunteer and attend meetings. Nine years later Hill retains some center vision and is now also disabled with arthritis: she spends twenty to thirty hours a week helping others cope with one of the most traumatic disasters of life, losing one’s vision. She oversees the preparation of meals, counsels those terrified of their new darkness, and supervises social activities. More than anything. Hill is an example that her “inconveniences,” as she calls them, are no obstacles to living a lull life. There is no hope without fear and no fear without hope. She has conquered her fear with hope. “What I have witnessed as a volunteer brings me courage to face what may come, gives me hope. I have learned from my volunteer work the greatness that is deep in the human spirit.” Hill wrote in a letter to Lighthouse program director Mike Hensley.

CHARITY: “In faith and hope the world will disagree. But all mankind’s concern is chanty.”

-Alexander Pope



For most, charity not only begins but ends at home. For Bill Miles, however, charily starts and ends at the Dallas Inter-Tribal Center on Jefferson Boulevard, where he has volunteered twenty to thirty hours a week since 1981 to belter the lives of Dallas’s native Americans. He has repaired toilets, refrigerators, and light fixtures: built clothes racks and shelves; organized food and clothing distribution: organized family Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties for children: transported people to hospitals: calmed down drunks and gotten them enrolled in alcohol abuse programs. “He has done everything here but pull teeth. said Richard Lucero, executive director of the center. One of the three theological virtues along with faith and hope, charity is synonymous with love-in its higher form. Cod’s love for man; but here on earth, one’s love for his fellow man. Through it all. Bill Miles has overcome the coolness, suspicion, and mistrust most native Americans feel toward Anglo “do-gooders,” and gained not only their trust but love through his charitable actions.

TEMPERANCE: “First takes a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes the man.”

-Edward Rowland Sill



Drunk has more synonyms than any other word. In 1737. Ben Franklin found 228 terms for inebriation. Stuart Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang has 35.3, but the author admits his list is incomplete. Drinking is funny, it’s sad. it’s aristocratic. it’s disastrous. We drink to celebrate and to mourn and for a thousand reasons in between. Consequently. 13 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or abuse it. For two and a half years Betty Smith has worked as a volunteer coordinator at Parkland Memorial Hospital’s Alcohol Intervention Program (called the “Twelve Stepper Program”), which she helped found. During her years at Parkland. Betty Smith directed sixty-five volunteers (some of the 250 she has recruited through the years) who help patients pull away from drugs and alcohol. Because of her work and time spent in volunteer activities, more than 3.000 alcohol and drug addicts have been treated in the programs at Parkland. Currently she works with the Swiss Avenue Counseling Center’s Substance Abuse Program and is on the board of the Chemical Awareness Council/Park Cities. Smith recognizes we are a nation of addicts-hooked on speed, cigarettes, cocaine, money-and she is committed to breaking this addiction the same way a one-legged man is crippled-Forever.

JUSTICE: “Justice is a machine that, when someone has once given it the starting push, rolls on of itself:’

-John Galsworthy



Each Thursday night the library at Grace United Methodist Church in East Dallas becomes a courtroom. Judge Merrill Hartman (303rd Family District Court) swears in the next witness in an uncontested divorce or child custody case or a paternity suit and listens as he has for three years as a volunteer night court judge. Hartman knows that justice is sometimes slow in coming to the poorer folk of his city, but through his help they are able to obtain a divorce or work out visitation rules without losing time at work or enduring the legal system’s costly bureaucracy. Four years ago on a beach in Puerto Rico, Hartman noticed a pack of raggedy kids running from their hillside slums and realized he wasn’t doing a thing about the poor in Dallas. “The Gospel is about justice for the poor and this legal clinic is something God has equipped me to do. The choice is mine,’1 said Hartman. After organizing a ministry called Samaritans at his Lake Highlands United Methodist Church to collect clothing and food, Hartman and a colleague then started a legal clinic at Bethlehem Center in South Dallas before coming to Grace Church. He wears no robe, and is no mighty authoritarian figure. “A court is not a room but a person,’1 said Hartman.

FORTITUDE: “You cannot run away from a weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”

-Robert Louis Stevenson



Donna Lancaster looks at death and the dying with an unflinching gaze. She prefers to have the truth, the final reality, thrown in her face like a spotlight. “The worst is death, and death will have his day,” Shakespeare wrote in Richard II. Death has its way in many of Lancaster’s days. As a volunteer for Dallas Hospice Care, her charge is to make the remaining days of life as comfortable as possible for the terminally ill. She is four feet tall, born with bones missing between her knees and ankles. This does not prevent her from making twice-a-week patient visits, holding a job as an aircraft dispatcher at Love Field’s Jet East Inc., driving her car. or flying a plane. “I think her handicap helps in her work with the dying,” said Danna Pyke, director of volunteers at the hospice center. “They can relate to her misfortune.” Pyke praises Lancaster’s talent for “dealing with people who are scared, angry, in great pain. By accepting them as they are, she calms them down.”

“The key is to make them feel that it’s okay to feel anger and guilt about their situation and they are loved in spite of it. It is something we will all face, and I enjoy making the last days of a patient comforting,” said Lancaster. Donna Lancaster personifies unconquerable courage and is herself a gift to those who have nothing else.

PRUDENCE: “Make all you can, save all you can, give alt you can.”

-John Wesley



Paul Allen and a tight budget are as close as a quarter to nine. Last year, as the volunteer director of the Project Hope Food Ministries at Saint John’s United Methodist Church, Allen and his nine co-volunteers fed 11,000 people using 11,000 dollars-no mean feat in a world of three- dollar valet parking. Allen’s late wife, Cloie, headed (he project for nine years until her death in 1981. “At her memorial service, I vowed to keep the food bank alive in her memory” said Allen, a retired Woodrow Wilson High School teacher. So on Mondays and Wednesdays, Allen and his co-workers interview families, listen to problems, and distribute badly needed food to an average of 300 families a month. Cash on hand September 29: $787.00. Allen also volunteers his time three other days a week, calling churches and friends for “P.B. and P.B.” (peanut butter and pinto beans); asking for reusable cloth, not throwaway, diapers; working to locate someone who will help them with computer- input duties for a new computer the Reverend Jerry Ott found for them. “The numbers are growing the past few years, particularly with Hispanics and the homeless, but we’re holding our own,” said Allen. Regardless of the food ministry’s impoverished bottom line, Paul Allen’s prudence and hard work enrich the lives of hundreds who daily skirt the edges of real hunger.