Faces of heroes

Ret. Col. Joe Jackson (center) signs books at Tyee Park Elementary in Lakewood.

For 25 years, Tyee Park Elementary’s  exuberant music teacher, Tracey Lundquist has packed the school’s tiny auditorium with uniforms of every type.  Most children’s events don’t draw the kinds of crowds that covet seats and force people to stand outside looking in doors or windows but at this tiny school in Lakewood, sailors sit cheek to jowl with Marines, airmen and soldiers as students from every ethnic background give enthusiastic and heartfelt thanks to active duty military and American veterans of every war since World War II.

The 56th Army Band opened the event on Nov. 3 with “Soldiers of Swing” and then the children launched into songs specific to the eras of various military retirees, starting by honoring the Pearl Harbor survivors with “Remember Pearl Harbor.”  Lundquist drew a parallel between the attack on Pearl Harbor and September 11, 2001.  “Boy and girls,” she said, “None of you will remember, but for the rest of us, we will never forget.”

Lundquist told her audience that children often ask her what a veteran is.  She tells the children, veterans are America’s Treasures.

Larry Todd served as a Radioman on the USS Pennsylvania at Pearl Harbor. Todd said he was just getting ready to play football when the alarm sounded they were being attacked.

One veteran at the event was Col. Joe Jackson.  A video introduced Jackson with a story of his most daring rescue.  He joked afterwards, “I’m kind of sorry you showed that video.  It scared me all over again.”  Jackson, who served his country in three wars, earned the Medal of Honor in 1968 for a daring rescue of a combat control team at Kham Duc, South Vietnam. He’s famous for his letter home that day that began, “Dear Rosie, I had a very exciting day today.  Someday I’ll tell you about it.”  Every year since Lundquist started the program, this American hero has spoken to Tyee Park children about what it means to be a citizen, how important it is to use their schooling to be educated and active voters and how they must participate in the process.  He told them, “Country is not made up of earth and water.  It’s made up of people.  You have a certain responsibility.”  When you’re young, he said, you’re responsibilities lie in making your bed, telling the truth and obeying your parents.  “As you grow older, responsibility changes to participating in government and voting.  It’s about preserving the freedom,” he finished, “that other people have gained for you.”

Michael Reagan, of the Fallen Heroes Project spoke about his foundation’s mission to honor the American Fallen Heroes.  He presented the school with a framed image of an American eagle and then surprised Lundquist with her own portrait.

The sad note to the day came when the children paid tribute to Former Joint Chief of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, who died this summer.  For years, the retired general and his wife have participated in the Veterans Day celebration.  Children, who had just begun to learn to read, have each year been able to brag about their ability to pronounce a name that twists most adults’ tongues in knots.

Richard Moats served in World War II in the 3rd Infantry. He was in 10 campaigns including four major ones. At 92, he still fits in his uniform.

Unfortunately, the school has chosen to end the widely popular program that introduced the children to veterans of Pearl Harbor, the Tuskegee Airmen and thousands of active and retired veterans from every war since World War II.

Opening gateways between two different worlds

Dr. Mike Spiger unloads a temporary storage container of larger medical equipment to prepare for shipping the equipment to Morocco. Photo by Bonnie Dickson

Things, as we all know, get improved or replaced on a fairly regular basis.  The cars we all drive don’t suddenly expire at the end of four years but many people choose to replace them with a newer model, different color paint or improved options after just that short period of time.  If we want to get a new vehicle, we take the old vehicle if it’s still in good condition to a car dealer and we “trade it in” for the newer vehicle.  Well think about this.  What happens to things that aren’t quite as fun when the people who own them want something new?  What happens for instance when the dental chair is tired and doesn’t look so good with the new carpeting or wall color?  What happens when catheters, yes catheters aren’t used and a doctor retires and closes shop?  What happens when something that was manual comes in a new electric version?  What happens is it goes to Gateway Medical Alliance (GMA).  Or at least it probably should.

In the early 50s, Michael Spiger was an Air Force brat whose father was stationed in Morocco.  He developed a love for Morocco that continued into adulthood and visited it several times. There’s a medical need in Morocco but the country’s laws don’t allow foreigners to practice medicine there.  In 1997, Spiger, now Dr. Spiger, collaborated with several Moroccan friends to send a shipping container of medical supplies and equipment over.

Spiger quickly realized that managing this new operation required full-time dedication and so in 1995, Spiger retired and he and his wife, Anne, launched what would become GMA.  They ran their operation out of their home for 10 years but now own an office on Canyon Road in Puyallup.

About 20 dedicated volunteers, mostly retirees, meet at a warehouse once a week and do inventory processes; sorting and packing donated medical supplies. “It doesn’t come like this,” said Del Platter, meaning the neatly stacked, sorted and shrink wrapped pallets that line the warehouse.  He and his wife Irma have volunteered at GMA for 11 years.  “Mike and Anne came to our church and asked for volunteers for Morocco.  We got stuck in our hearts.”  He added, “We went to Morocco once and worked at the other end.  It’s really an eye opener.  I think everybody should go overseas once.”  On their trip they saw a little girl with disabilities.  “We stopped at an intersection and interviewed the mother.  You looked at the little girl and you just…” he sighed and held his heart, “melt.  That trip was very satisfying.  The only trouble is it gets in your blood and you want to keep going back.”

On this end, once they have around 900 cartons, the volunteers pack a 40-foot shipping container to send to Morocco.  Each container contains roughly $300,000 worth of donated equipment and supplies.  GMA ships a container every three months.

GMA partners with Moroccans in everything.  They work with charitable organizations over there to distribute the equipment and in the process the organization builds relationships.  “We want to break down stereotypes that Muslims have toward westerners and in turn we get to learn about them,” said Spiger.  “It really is a people-to-people organization.

“We love them.  We want them to know we care.  We act as a catalyst to improve the lives of the poor and the underprivileged,” he said.  “These gifts go to university hospitals where we can bring poor people to them (the hospitals) and they do surgery on them.”  In addition to shipping supplies and equipment, GMA sponsors physical therapy centers, short-term dental clinics, community health education, fire fighter exchanges and share medical expertise with teaching hospitals.

While the majority of their equipment and supplies come from hospitals and government organizations, GMA also has needs for adult diapers, bandage materials, the previously mentioned catheters and other personal supplies.  “The high tech stuff can’t go out to the outskirts ‘cause they don’t have facilities,” said Del Platter.

“We like wheelchairs and walkers particularly,” added Spiger.  They also have a relationship with Children’s Therapy Center in Puyallup and “they give us children’s equipment when they (the children) outgrow them.

If you would like to learn more about GMA, go to their website, www.gatewayma.org.

KWA celebrates Korean Full Moon Festival with music, food

Performers at the Moon Festival
Performers at the KWA Moon Festival wind their way through spectators

The vibrant colors of Hanbok or traditional Korean dress swirled and flowed amongst the more conservative western garb at Korean Women’s Association (KWA) meal site on Sept. 7. Koreans celebrate Chusok or the Korean Full Moon Festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month of the Korean calendar.   The centuries old festival, which runs three days, celebrates the autumn harvest with thanks and gratitude for their ancestors.  For 2011, Chusok fell on Sept. 12 and was celebrated Sept. 11 through Sept 13.

Gongs and drums crashed and thrummed in a clamorous, heavy heartbeat as participants and spectators alike clapped, sang and shouted.   The musicians circled and danced amongst jests and laughter as spectators joined and then left the group in an unorchestrated, organic mass until finally the performers wound their way through the entire room and out the door.

Then the real celebration began.  Koreans enjoy Karaoke in a way it takes many in American a few drinks to achieve.  According to statistics collected in 2009, an average of 1.9 million South Koreans participate in Karaoke each day.  Celeste Lee said, “Koreans love to sing.”  Lee, Program Manager for Social Services at KWA, said that when she gets together with friends, they eat and talk for a while and then they sing.  At first, she admitted she was nervous but as with most things the more you practice, the better you become.  It’s obvious that the twenty or so participants in the Karaoke contest had practiced a great deal.  One participant scored 100 points on the game system that ranks singers on their pitch, timing and rhythm.  Most scored impressively in the high 80s and 90s.  Even to the uninitiated, they sounded impressive.

A short break in the singing occurred just long enough for everyone to enjoy a traditional Korean meal with baked mackerel, chap chae (a popular noodle dish), beef and white radish soup, crescent-shaped rice cakeS and squid seasoned with red peppers, vinegar and garlic.

Although, Chusok is celebrated only once a year, KWA serves traditional Asian foods every week at their two meal sites.  The meal site at 123 East 96th Street in Tacoma serves Korean meals on Wednesdays, international meals on Thursdays and Samoan meals on Fridays.  In addition, Vietnamese meals are served Mondays and Thursday at the Indochinese Cultural and Service Center at 1427 East 40th Street in Tacoma.  That location serves Cambodian meal on Tuesdays and Fridays.   Nearly 300 meals are served each week between the two meal sites.  The 96th Street location can be reached at (253) 535-4202.  The Indochinese site can be reached at (253) 473-5666.

KWA started in 1972 as a Korean women’s social club in Tacoma.  Over the years, KWA has changed from that social club to a social service agency to help Korean women acclimate into American culture and has gradually become an association that assisted the needs of Asian Pacific Islander immigrants and refugees.

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Local museums offer taste of Northwest art

“Wow!”  That, said Stephanie Stebich, is the number one word visitors use when they first enter the Dale Chihuly’s Northwest exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum.  Stebich, the museum’s director was there to talk about the man she considers America’s most recognized contemporary artist.  That man, Dale Chihuly, is one of just a few Tacoma natives being shown this month at two of the areas largest museums.  Works by glass artist, Dale Chihuly and photographer Virna Haffer fill two of the Tacoma Art Museum’s exhibition rooms.  For a third Tacoma native, read Maggie Kelly’s article about Peter Serko on page 7.  Serko’s work is being shown across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass at the Museum of Glass.

Chihuly is indisputably one of the leaders in the school of glass but native baskets, trade blankets and Edward S. Curtis’s photographs of North American Indians influenced much of his work and collections of these artifacts breathe warmth and meditative calm into this exhibition.  Overhead, two amazing Day Island Willits canoes punctuate the exhibit.  Chihuly called them, “Some of the most beautiful canoes ever made.”

Chihuly grew up in Tacoma, attended Stadium High School and graduated from Wilson High School.  “I love Tacoma.  It’s my hometown.  It’s where I was raised.”

“I’m so proud of Tacoma for building three museums in three years,” said Chihuly.  He’s been a major supporter of Tacoma’s art scene.  So much so that Stebich said, “If you really love Dale’s work, you want to see more of it and that means you have to come to Tacoma.”[singlepic id=22 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Just down the hall from the Chihuly exhibit is the work of Virna Haffer.  Haffer has largely slipped from the American consciousness but her work spanned six decades beginning in the 20s.  A prolific photographer, she also found success as a printmaker, painter, musician, sculptor and published writer.  The sheer scope of her work is breathtaking.  Etchings share space with photograms, which share space with portraits and on and on it seems to go.  Museum staff sorted through 30,000 images at the Washington State Historical Society and Tacoma Public Library’s Special Collections to create the exhibit.

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“A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer” runs July 2 through Oct. 16, 2011.

“Dale Chihuly’s Northwest” runs through Sept. 25, 2011.