McCrabb: Meet my 10 most intriguing people of 2019

I wasn’t supposed to be here this long.

When then-Middletown Journal Sports Editor Jerry Nardiello hired me as a sports writer in 1987, I figured I’d stay here for a few years, then join Sports Illustrated’s staff.

But I never got that dream job offer.

But now, 32 years later, looking back on my career as the sun is setting, I realize staying here was the best career decision of my life.

If I had left, I never would have met you, readers of this newspaper.

This year, I’ve written more than 300 stories, including those about a teen cancer survivor, World War II veteran, one-armed pitcher, 107-year-old lady and recovering drug addict.

Here are my Top 10 most intriguing people of 2019, in alphabetical order:

Luke Campbell: ‘He’s missing part of his arm’

At first glance, it’s easy to see what Luke Campbell is missing, but after a short conversation what becomes clearer: He’s not defined by his disability.

As soon as Allison Campbell delivered Luke on July 26, 1997, she looked at her doctor’s face.

“Something wasn’t quite right,” she said of the physician’s reaction.

MORE: ‘Guy with one arm who played sports’ now helping others with disabilities

Campbell, a former labor and delivery nurse, noticed the doctor was holding her son low and out of her sight.

“What’s wrong?” she asked her husband, Greg.

He laid his face down and whispered: “He doesn’t have his arm. He’s missing part of his arm.”

That defining moment for the Campbell family occurred 22 years ago. Since then, Campbell, born missing his left arm from the elbow, has proved every doubter wrong. As a senior at Madison High School, he went 8-3, striking out 48 in 55.1 innings and compiling a 1.77 ERA.

After high school, he pitched middle relief for two seasons at Wittenberg University in Springfield.

A college senior, Campbell has walked off the pitcher’s mound for the last time and started another, more important, endeavor: Being the voice of athletes with disabilities.

“My dream is to give everyone the opportunity to compete in athletics no matter their ability,” he said. “Sports not only gave me an outlet to compete, but also a feeling of being part of a team and family.”

He started selling Overcome bracelets for $2, and proceeds will be donated to organizations striving to give athletes with disabilities an opportunity to play, he said. Campbell designed the bracelets, and hopes they serve as “a reminder that my disability doesn’t define me.”

Mattie Cole: ‘I never would have thought this’

What a year it has been for the Cole family.

Last year at this time, Mattie Cole, then a 16-year-old sophomore at Madison High School, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

MORE: Her cancer diagnosis rocked her family. Then the Madison community responded in beautiful ways.

“I never would have thought this,” her mother, Jody Cole, said at the time. “It’s been rough ever since.”

Since then, the Madison community, really the entire country, embraced the Cole family through prayers, fundraisers, and kind gestures.

“We feel extremely blessed,” her mother said. “It’s just overwhelming.”

And most importantly, Mattie has been declared cancer free.

Billie Crabtree: ‘Totally two different people’

There are two Billie Crabtrees: The addict and the asset.

The addict left a special-needs daughter to return to a dangerous life on Middletown’s streets. The asset works on several area committees to help those who are fighting the battle she once did. Her story shows that any life can turn in multiple directions.

MORE: McCrabb: There are two Billie Crabtrees, the addict and the community asset. We can learn from both.

“It’s totally two different people,” she said.

Sixteen years ago, she dropped those pills and smashed them “like a roach on the floor,” much to the dismay of those around her.

“Never looked back,” she said of her decision to be clean.

On Nov. 4, 2018, Workman, 45, twice divorced, married Ron Crabtree, whom she had known since high school.

Then, just like that she was mourning the loss of her special needs and oldest daughter, Ciara Ruth Ann Egelston, who died Jan. 10, 2019. She was 25.

Fearn Ferber: At 107, ‘grateful’ to do what she can

I’ve never interviewed a 107-year-old person.

That changed one day when I walked into the Gerber Farm and talked to Fearn Ferber, who turned 107 the next day.

MORE: ‘Life is good’: Meet the Butler County woman who turns 107 today

Until a few years ago when she gave up her driver’s license because of failing eye sight, she drove to First Presbyterian Church in Middletown and the grocery store. She gets herself dressed, fixes her own meals and reads the newspaper every day thanks to an enlarger in the kitchen.

“Grateful that I’m still able to do what I can do,” she said.

When she celebrated her birthday, she blew out the candles along with 18 of her great-great-grandchildren.

Jake Ferguson: ‘One of the biggest blessings of my life’

Jake Ferguson, a Marine recruiter in Bowling Green, had forged a prescription for painkillers, and 15 minutes later, local police charged him with deception to obtain a dangerous drug, a felony.

MORE: McCrabb: Why a Marine says being arrested was ‘one of the biggest blessings’ in guiding him to Middletown success

If convicted, the Middletown native faced a court-martial from the Marines with a possible penalty of up to 18 months in prison, the loss of his military rank and pension and probably his marriage to Nicki.

A forged signature that nearly cost him everything seemed to be his final chapter. Instead, it was the opening sentence.

He confessed his crime to Bowling Green detectives, was released that night, and when he faced the judge, he was “open and honest,” he said.

Since then, Ferguson has received 2 1/2 years of intense therapy — one year in Bowling Green and 18 months with the Wounded Warriors East Battalion in Jacksonville, N.C. — medically retired from the Marines in 2015, “surrendered his life” to Christ, worked as a counselor for more than three years with his wife at a church in North Carolina and was named Life Care Pastor at Berachah Church in Middletown.

He called being arrested “one of the biggest blessings of my life. I’m glad God cut me down that day. God was fed up and he gave me over to the authorities.”

Carolyn Jones Hibberd: The mother of Marine ‘just knew’

When Carolyn Jones Hibberd’s son, a corporal in the Marine Corps, was on his five deployments, she periodically sent him care packages from home.

Then on April 27, 2011, Hibberd’s world as she knew it came crashing down. Her son, Cpl. Adam D. Jones, 29, a 2000 Valley View High School graduate, was leading his platoon on a night foot patrol when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

MORE: McCrabb: 8 years after losing son, Marine’s mom continues Adam’s Hope

Later that night, there was a knock on Hibberd’s door. She looked out and saw two Marines standing on her porch.

“I just knew,” she said. “If your child is in the Marine Corps there is no reason for two Marines to walk up to your door in the middle of the night except to tell you they’re gone.”

Later she pushed the grief aside, just as her son would have wanted and started Adam’s Hope, a non-profit that sends care packages to deployed troops.

The Keseday family: ‘You can’t make this stuff up’

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the Keseday home. What I found was a house full of love.

Besides their three grown daughters, Bob and Margie Keseday have 11 adopted children from 8 to 20 years old, and they are in the process of adopting two more. They have fostered more than 50.

MORE: Keseday family: 3 biological, 11 adopted, 50 foster children

When people ask how many children the Kesedays have, the response is simple: “A lot.”

“We don’t keep count,” said Margie.

And that number, whatever it is, doesn’t include Margie’s parents and special needs sister, Becky, 43, who share the same Warren County house.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Margie said.

The most recent addition to the Keseday family tree was placed in the home by Children’s Medical Missions West. Rayagnewende “Anne” Bamogo was severely burned when her dress caught fire while she was standing too close to her mother cooking outside.

Lyle and Kelly McDaniel: ‘We share a special bond’

Lyle and Kelly McDaniel should have four kidneys and not two.

But what they lack in those organs, they make up with huge hearts.

The Monroe residents have been told they may be the only married couple to be living organ donors.

“We share a special bond,” Kelly McDaniel said.

MORE: This Butler County couple are both organ donors. Here’s their inspiring story.

While the bond is special, the circumstances behind their donations are incredible.

Eight years ago, Lyle, 58, plant manager at Air Products in Middletown, donated a kidney to his mother-in-law. At least he knew his recipient. Kelly, 49, a registered nurse at Atrium Medical Center, donated a kidney to a stranger, a 40-year-old orthodontist whose pelvic cancer deteriorated his kidney.

Delbert Sharrett: ‘This will be my way to honor him’

When Delbert Sharrett rode in a red 2013 Camaro convertible Monday as grand marshal of Middletown’s Memorial Day Parade, there was a smile on his face and a heaviness to his heart.

Throughout the parade route, the 95-year-old World War II veteran thought about his shipmate, Clyde Nichols, who introduced Sharrett to his future wife and who was buried at sea in a submarine during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

MORE: 95-year-old Pearl Harbor vet to honor late friend while grand marshaling Middletown Memorial Day parade

Sharrett and his wife, Lillie Mae, were married for 65 years until her death in 2010. They have have three children: two daughters, Jane and Phyllis, and one son, Clyde, named in honor of Nichols.

“He didn’t get the chance to come home,” Sharrett said. “It’s very, very sad. This will be my way to honor him.”

In 1941, Sharrett, then a junior at Washington Court House High School, enlisted in the U.S. Navy so he wouldn’t have to finish school. He served a few weeks in Michigan, patrolling a lake shore with a rifle and no ammunition.

Sharrett was shipped to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 2, 1941, five days before the attack. He remembers a radio announcement urging the sailors to “take cover because Pearl Harbor was bombed.”

Phillip ‘Tank’ Spangler: His nickname ‘struck forever’

When I walked to the front desk at the Hospice of Butler and Warren Counties, the woman politely asked who I was there to visit.

“Tank,” I said.

She asked his last name.

“Tank,” I said with a smile.

Actually his name is Phillip Spangler, best known as Tank, a nickname he earned while playing football at Middletown High School.

MORE: The incredible story of Middletown’s beloved ‘Tank,’ one of its most colorful characters of recent decades

“It stuck forever,” the 82-year-old said. “That name was there. There was nothing I could do about it, but live with it.”

It’s important for any community to remember those who helped build and thread it together, the colorful characters who pass through our lives. There are few more colorful than Tank.

Just weeks after I interviewed Tank, he died.

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