A virtual nugget of gold was buried in an obituary that appeared on Wednesday and, while I have no idea what drew me to it, I hope I’ll remember its words for a long time to come. The obituary celebrated the life of Kenneth Stephens, who was a police officer on Signal Mountain after a career with the 101st Airborne in the U.S. Army.
I didn’t know Kenneth, who died on Sunday at age 60, but I knew my two brothers who died some years ago quite well. The obituary was written by Kenneth’s brother, Randy, and please allow me to share what Randy included in his final tribute to his brother:
“You all have heard of the saying “Band of Brothers.” We were truly a band of brothers. If one of us had a problem, we all had a problem. When my brothers, Roy and Kenneth, joined the 101st Airborne, a unit in the army known as the Screaming Eagles, they joined on the buddy system, again a band of brothers.
“During their first jump out of the airplane, Kenneth froze in the doorway. After all, he had a 90-pound pack of radio supplies on his back. (The soldiers had been) instructed that if the person in front of you freezes, give them a swift boot out of the plane. Kenneth felt the boot, only to turn and see Roy smiling because he had delivered the swift boot. They jumped many times after that as a band of brothers.
“After Kenneth passed away Sunday, my wife, Pam, and I returned home. Something told me to walk outside as I walked out of my back door, a huge shadow came over me from the sky. I turned my eyes to the sky and, much to my surprise, an eagle soared over my house. I yelled for my wife to come and share this moment with me. By the time she got there, a huge tree had her view blocked. We ran around the tree to see the eagle coming back to make one more circle over our house and soar out of sight as I was yelling "Go Screaming Eagles".
“An eagle is a symbol of freedom. The Lord was telling me, Kenneth had been set free to join two more members of his band of brothers, Cpl. Thomas A. Stephens and Sgt. Roy L. Stephens.”
How special is that! Glory!
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Elin Nordegren, surely one of the most beautiful women on planet Earth, was recently named as the “Outstanding Graduating Senior” of the Hamilton Holt School at Rollins College. Elin had a 3.96 grade point average and a lot more courage to get her degree than that – you’ll remember she has had to hold her head high as the scorned wife in the Tiger Woods scandal.
So there she was, standing proudly and telling her fellow students how much they had inspired her, when she told the crowd, “When I entered my student advisor office in the fall of 2005, I was 25 years old, I had just recently moved to America, and I was married without children. Today, nine years later, I am a proud American and I have two beautiful children.”
The audience gave her a loud applause and Elin, bearing the ovation with dignity, then added, “But I am no longer married.” That brought the house down in a moment of pure delight.
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Four clients at Orange Grove Center have now received the necessary financial aid to attend camp at the GG Ranch, thanks to an outpouring of support from the Chattanooga community. And almost $2,000 arrived in the first day after an urgent call was published on Chattanoogan.com on Monday.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” camp director Lizzy Cheek said Wednesday morning. “We haven’t gotten today’s mail so that’s pretty incredible. You have no way of telling people what a week at camp means to our kids and for people to respond like they have really lifts all of us who are involved up in a big way.
“Everybody knows our clients have very simple, very basic, lifestyles. A week at camp, away from families and care-givers and house managers, is the biggest event for many all year and – with just Monday’s donations – we can take four more of their best friends,” Lizzy laughed. “This is why I love living here. Oh, man!”
Every year since 1958 Orange Grove, which serves children in our community who are physically and mentally challenged, has taken about 75 campers to GG Ranch for a blessed week. They are accompanied by a small army of staff and volunteers and everybody involved holds onto the memories all year.
Sadly, rising costs and an absence of funding played havoc with this year’s plans and, until this week, it appeared about 20 campers would be told there wasn’t enough funding available for them to be included. “We’ve still got a handful holding their breath but I’m excited, I really am.”
Monday’s “Call To Action” has resulted in a flood of donations, ranging from a few dollars to a full scholarship ($500) and Lizzy has been promised some corporate checks will be delivered by the end of this week, which will allow more Orange Grove “kids” – some who haven’t missed camp in as many as 30 years -- to take part in June. It is hoped there may be enough money left over to buy extra Popsicles.
All gifts to “Orange Grove Center” are tax deductible and donations should be earmarked “GG Ranch Scholarship Fund.” Envelopes should be addressed to: Lizzy Cheek, GG Ranch Scholarship Fund, The Orange Grove Center, 615 Derby Street, Chattanooga TN 37404.
Two Orange Grove pals in front of their cabin at the GG Ranch camp