Super 7 Feel-good Stories of the Year

At No. 1, a woman’s retirement exemplifies the value of a great teacher

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

HAMLET — In a year where tenure, salary cuts and salary increases have been bandied back and forth by lawmakers in Raleigh, the focus seemed to be anywhere but inside a classroom.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Debbie Price was given flowers and a special number by her students to send her into retirement, which begins Friday at about 3 p.m.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Debbie Price was given flowers and a special number by her students to send her into retirement, which begins Friday at about 3 p.m.

And that was still true the night of Dec. 16, which is when — 350 days into the 2014 calendar — The Pee Dee Post found its top-ranked Feel-good Story of the Year. That night, Debbie Price, Richmond Senior High School choral director, made her last planned appearance for Richmond County Schools inside the Robert L. and Elizabeth S. Cole Auditorium at Richmond Community College in Hamlet. The following Friday, Price concluded 40 years in teaching.

During the concert, Price danced in her seat from the piano bench, her hands in the air as she guided the Richmond Senior High School Choral Music Department, which included students from the Ninth Grade Academy. She snapped her fingers with the situation called for. Led the crowd in a group performance of “Silent Night.” Smiled and gave the students an encouraging nod even when a note was missed or a word forgotten.

After “White Christmas,” students presented Price with a bouquet of flowers and serenaded her with a special version of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” The choir substituted “teacher” for “brother.” The lyrics are inspired by a story from a Boys Town orphanage in the days of post-World War I. They attempt to show how meaningful it is to care about someone, and to have someone care about you.

This is the sixth of an eight-part series to close out the year, looking back on the top videos, news and sporting events of 2014. The remaining schedule includes:

Dec. 24 — By the numbers: Top videos of the year
Dec. 25 —  By the numbers: Top Sports/Outdoor stories
Dec. 26 —  By the numbers: Top News stories
Dec. 27 —  Super 7 Business stories
Dec. 27 — Fantastic 15 Photos of the Year
Dec. 28 — Super 7 Feel-good stories
Dec. 29 — Super 7 Sports stories
Dec. 30 — Super 7 Stories of the Year – final

No. 2 — Dannell Ellerbe returns to Richmond County

ROCKINGHAM — Since graduating Richmond Senior High School, Dannell Ellerbe has excelled in his profession and is being paid a lot of money to perform at a high level.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Dannell Ellerbe signs autographs for children for whom he funded a Christmas shopping trip at Walmart on Dec. 22 in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Dannell Ellerbe signs autographs for children for whom he funded a Christmas shopping trip at Walmart on Dec. 22 in Rockingham.

His focus is, justifiably, on his job and his family. No one ever would have thought twice if Ellerbe and his wife, Shervella, of Ellerbe, put Richmond County behind them. Dannell Ellerbe went on to play football at Georgia, then the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and then signing a five-year, $35 million free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins.

In July, Ellerbe returned to Rockingham to host his annual youth football clinic. Under a blazing sun, nearly 200 young athletes ages 5 to 17 put their talents on display on the Raider football practice field. Ellerbe saw the dedication in their movements and intensity in their desire. Neither the youth, nor their parents, paid for the camp — Ellerbe paid for it all. So the kids had nothing to lose by not showing up, or giving up when the streams of sweat became too much to bear.

No one quit. Ellerbe was moved. He and his wife decided to do more for Richmond County, an aspiration that became easier to make a reality when a hip injury sidelined him for the bulk of the 2014 season.

In November, Ellerbe returned to Rockingham in November to fund and distribute Thanksgiving meals to 85 seniors and family members at the Richmond County Aging Services building on South Lawrence Street. Ellerbe even provided curbside service for some individuals unable to conveniently leave their vehicles.

Mary Evers, of East Rockingham, said she was glad to see the NFL lifestyle hadn’t absorbed Ellerbe enough for him to forget his roots. He helps, she said, because “it’s from the heart. I think he likes giving back to people.”

And he wasn’t done giving. Before leaving town, Ellerbe reached out to a friend at the Richmond County Department of Social Services and said he wanted to help provide a Christmas to 59 children — the number being his jersey number with the Dolphins — who otherwise might not have one.

No. 3 — Nikki Ellerbe: Unlimited

Her story was a powerful one. It started like this:

Nikki Ellerbe does not, in fact, always have a smile on her face.

Nikki Ellerbe

Nikki Ellerbe

She does smile about 99 percent of the time, as visitors to Rocking Trends Consignment Boutique in downtown Rockingham would attest. But once each day, normally, in the mornings. the 43-year-old Rockingham woman permits herself a moment of self-pitiful reflection.

“I allow myself 15 minutes to scream, yell and cry,” Ellerbe said. “Then I get up.”

As Ellerbe comes to her feet — including one a prosthetic — the amputee is always willing to help lift, pull or push others up. The East Rockingham woman decided there were plenty of other amputees in Richmond County who could use a little help now and again, so she began a support group that meets once a month at The Hive Recreation Center on Mill Road.

On the third Sunday of each month at 3 p.m. at The Hive Recreation Center, 107 Mill Road in East Rockingham, Ellerbe hosts a LOVE — Living Onward Voicing Encouragement — amputee support group. It’s for people who are going through life missing parts of one or more limbs. Those interested in attending should call Ellerbe at 910-719-2069.

No. 4 — Community rallies to recognize area veterans

HAMLET — The inaugural Celebration of the Armed Forces at the North Carolina National Guard Armory in Hamlet was, by any measure, an overwhelming success.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jack Hudson, right, and Ronald Wallace, in orange, go through the buffet-style line for chicken, baked beans, slaw and plenty more on Saturday at the North Carolina National Guard Armory in Hamlet during the inaugural Celebration of Armed Forces.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jack Hudson, right, and Ronald Wallace, in orange, go through the buffet-style line for chicken, baked beans, slaw and plenty more on Saturday at the North Carolina National Guard Armory in Hamlet during the inaugural Celebration of Armed Forces.

The event, organized by Patricia Davis, Rena Shedrick-Marshall and Stan Sellers, served as a welcome home for many of the veterans from the wars in Korea and Vietnam who received something other than a hero’s welcome when the returned from combat.

As a Private First Class in the Army’s 5th Regimental Combat Team, Jack Hudson was on the front line from Inchon to north of the 38th parallel that now separates the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south.

The armistice signed on July 27, 1953, did nothing to help Hudson and his band of brothers from forgetting what happened as he fought the North Koreans and Chinese carrying his ruck sack, his Browning Automatic Rifle and a .45 pistol over mountainous terrain, in severe cold and high heat.

Hudson, 83, of Rockingham, recalled suffering from frostbite. He remembered what it felt like to come home.

His return home, Hudson said, was “no reception whatsoever.”

That changed on July 12 with more than a little effort by a core group of volunteers who felt area veterans deserved a chance at a nice meal and some camaraderie between the generations of soldiers.

No. 5 — Kandace Frye rolls to Cordova 5K victory

CORDOVA — Kandace Frye might forever sit lower at a table that most others. That’s due to a physical impairment caused by a horrific motor vehicle crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kandace Frye, 22, of Rockingham, completes her first 5K using a hand cycle on Saturday at the 3rd annual Cordova 5K. It was Frye’s first race since being paralyzed from the mid-chest down as a result of a January car accident.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kandace Frye, 22, of Rockingham, completes her first 5K using a hand cycle on May 24 at the 3rd annual Cordova 5K. It was Frye’s first race since being paralyzed from the mid-chest down as a result of a January car accident.

But where ever she goes, she’ll do so with her back straight and chin up. That’s due to her pride, perseverance and faith in God — not exactly in that order. And perhaps without meaning to, the 22-year-old can be an inspiration to many.

On May 24, Frye returned to the Cordova 5K race on Saturday only one year removed from her first attempt on the course. This time, though, was quite different than in 2013.

Four months prior to race day, the Rockingham woman was paralyzed from the mid-chest down in a January car accident. Not quite three months removed from spending more than a month in the hospital, Frye borrowed a hand cycle and used her arms to crank her way to an overall victory in the third annual 3.1-mile road race at the Cordova School.

Pete Swails, co-race director, said the only special arrangements made included a two-minute head start — subtracted later at the finish line — that allowed Frye to navigate the turns without fear of interfering with a fellow competitor.

Now, Frye is focusing on what comes next.

“I want to keep on going,” she said. “I want to see where it takes me.”

No. 6 — Robert ‘has got a lot of heart’

ROCKINGHAM — A third open heart surgery took Robert Potter, 11, from his position as goalie on the AC Rocks U12 travel soccer team and out of his classes at Rockingham Middle School.

At least a six-figure ordeal, his father’s health insurance was expected c

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Robert Potter hopes to be back on the soccer field in 2015 and rejoin his AC Rocks youth soccer team, coached by Pat Moss.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Robert Potter hopes to be back on the soccer field in 2015 and rejoin his AC Rocks youth soccer team, coached by Pat Moss.

over about half the cost. Robert’s primary doctor in Chapel Hill, Wayne Poter said, “is not in our network.”

So Robert’s soccer family got together and staged a number of fundraisers, including an all-night “Rock for Robert” rock-a-thon at Cordova that netted well over $8,000 and a highly successful plate sale and auction at Pat’s Kitchen.

“We would like to thank everyone for their kindness, prayers and support during the days of our son Robert‘s open heart surgery,” Wayne and Hope Potter wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to the editor.

From everyone who brought stuff by our home, sent stuff to the hospital, donating money, the help with the Rock-A-Thon and benefit at Pat’s Kitchen — you will never know how much your prayers and generosity means to us.”

In the process, the Potter family came to know just how much they and their son mean to the community.

No. 7 — Running for life: Johnson, Asciutto and Mabry

ROCKINGHAM — Take 300 of your closest friends and have them complete a 1.5032-mile loop around Hinson Lake for 24 consecutive hours and you’re bound to get all kinds of stories.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Peter Asciutto

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Peter Asciutto

That’s just what happened at ninth annual Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic in September in Rockingham. And the best of those stories might have been from Veronica Johnson, Peter Asciutto and Nicholas Mabry.

Johnson, a 41-year-old from Fayetteville, is a member of the Fort Bragg chapter of Team Red, White and Blue. Team RWB is a nonprofit veterans service group aimed at promoting health and wellness through social and physical activity — including running around a sandy loop for an entire day.

On the front of her Team RWB shirt, Johnson affixed her race bib, No. 43. On the back was a photo of her cousin, Sgt. Jose R. Escobedo. Escobedo died in Iraq at the age of 32 on March 20, 2009 in a non-combat related death. A photo of him in his military uniform “helps me keep him alive,” Johnson said.

Johnson said whenever she hits a low point in a long distance race — inevitable in such events — she thinks of her cousin, who helped protect her while he was alive. And though he’s now gone, he continues to come to her aid when needed.

“He always has my back,” Johnson said.

Peter Asciutto is alive to tell his story — but he continues to feel it shouldn’t be.

The last weekend in September served as the three-month anniversary of a quintuple artery bypass surgery at CMC NorthEast in Concord. That was June 27, shortly after Asciutto collapsed only 1.1 miles into a short group training run.

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

“I passed out,” said Asciutto, 55, of Albemarle.

The runner behind him had a cellphone, Asciutto said, and he was in an ambulance in about nine minutes. In the ambulance, his heart went into v-tach, “which ain’t good.”

“My heart was strong except for five clogged arteries,” Asciutto said.

Asciutto finished with 51.3 miles.

Nicholas Mabry has a tattoo that might seem unusual. Located across the top of his back between the shoulder blades, in black text, reads, “Fallen hunters.”

And no, he said, it’s not about falling out of a tree stand.

Instead, it is about a group of high school friends whose lives were cut short when they died in a tragic car accident. The 20-year-old Norwood resident was attempting his first ultra marathon — any distance over the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles — and started with experienced ultra runner Lee “Iceman” Watson, of Hamlet.

While Watson didn’t meet his goals, his conservative start helped Mabry meet his — and allowed a few more people to learn about his fallen friends who shared a passion for outdoor recreation.

Honorable Mention

* Sen. McLaurin recognizes Mary O’Neal for service to veterans

Submitted photo Mary O’Neal stands between Lacy Shepherd, left, 2011 NC AMVETS commander, and State Sen. Gene McLaurin.

Submitted photo
Mary O’Neal stands between Lacy Shepherd, left, 2011 NC AMVETS commander, and State Sen. Gene McLaurin.

Sen. Gene McLaurin took time in Raleigh to honor Mary O’Neal for her commitment to veterans, even after the loss of her husband.

In North Carolina, Mary O’Neal served as state president of the AMVETS Auxiliary in2013 and, this year, is a national executive committee member for AMVETS Auxiliary of North Carolina.

“I have known Mary for many years and have always admired her spirit of true loyalty, service and dedication to our veterans,” McLaurin said in a news release issued Friday. “Her tireless work has led to many veterans receiving care packages, calling cards to call their families (and) countless services for disabled veterans and their families.”

Once lost, Bubba is now home

Volunteers with Richmond County Animal Advocates, starting with Amy Brown, help pair Bubba, an abandoned pit bull in East Rockingham that is missing an eye after being shot, with Nikki Ellerbe, an amputee who is missing a leg.

Submitted photo Ray Ellerbe with Bubba.

Submitted photo
Ray Ellerbe with Bubba.

Bubba was found in February 2013 and only in October, 20 months later, found his forever home with Ellerbe and her family.

“A lot of people don’t want a pit bull,” said Allison Sweatt, of RCAA.  “A lot of people that want pit bulls don’t want a neutered, one-eyed pit bull. We just kept holding out (for the right home). I don’t ever give up on a dog if I know he can find a home.”

Sweatt said Bubba’s sweet disposition never let her anything but just that was possible.

* 9th Hinson Lake ultra goes to Afghanistan

Race director Jerry Lindstrand showed what running was all about when he allowed Lt. Col. Fred Dummar, an Army Special Forces commander, to continue his streak in the event.

Dummar was deployed in May to Camp Morehead in Kabul, Afghanistan. There, he works to train the Afghan National Army.

When told of Dummar’s dilemma, Lindstrand, the second-year race director, has a simple solution. Run in Afghanistan.

“His immediate comment back to me was, ‘I thought about that, but I didn’t want to ask,’” Lindstrand said. “That was the brainchild. It came from there.”

So Dummar recruited first 10, then 36 runners and Lindstrand mailed to Camp Morehead — at no cost to Dummar or any of the other three dozen service members competing in the 24-hour race — shirts, glasses and other support. The Afghanistan field includes service members from the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force as well as some runners from Slovakia who also are based at Camp Morehead.

Fred Dummar photo Race director Jerry Lindstrand surprised Dummar and other Hinson-Afghanistan runners with a customized souvenir race T-shirt.

Fred Dummar photo
Race director Jerry Lindstrand surprised Dummar and other Hinson-Afghanistan runners with a customized souvenir race T-shirt.

“It was awfully nice of Jerry,” Dummar said. “We’re shocked at the level of support from the small town of Rockingham and our Richmond County running Club.”

Filed in: Announcements, Education, Ellerbe/Norman, Featured News, Hamlet, Health, Hoffman, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, News, Outdoors, Rockingham, Sports

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