Michele DeLuca Commentary
Niagara Gazette — Some days I really love my job. Here’s the reason for my most recent surge of gratitude. Last Thursday I got a phone call about the column I wrote on young Jack Schroeder.
The caller and his wife were touched by the story about the 9-year-old Ran- som- ville boy with autism and how his mom and dad have devoted their lives to watching over him to keep him safe and happy. The Schroeder’s lives were already challenged before they were given jolt of bad news last summer when Jack was diagnosed with Type 1 childhood diabetes.
Jack is lively and loving, but he does not speak, and so there is inherent danger in diabetes as he cannot tell his parents when he’s feeling the most dangerous symptoms of his illness. I wrote about a social media campaign to raise the $18,000 needed to buy a diabetic-alert dog — a 3-month-old yellow lab puppy named Lucy, currently being trained in Texas. (www.adogforjack)
Early on the day the column ran, I got the call from the Niagara Falls couple who wanted to donate a painting to help buy Lucy for Jack. Yesterday I went out and met them. Ed and Jean live in a mobile home park in Niagara Falls and asked that their last name not be used. I’m obliging them, of course.
The retired couple were given the painting by Ed’s Aunt Mina, just before she died. Mina was a wealthy widow who lived on the east coast of Florida. All she really knew about the painting was that it was purchased in Rome, Italy during World War II by her husband, Joseph, a military doctor, who went on to become a successful plastic surgeon.
The painting depicts Madonna and child, — the Mother Mary and her son, Jesus. I think that’s especially touching, because at the crux of Jack’s story is his mom, Nicole, a part-time nurse and mother of two who is his activist, researcher and medical care giver. She is constantly calculating his needs so that he is peaceful and happy. To do that, she must always be on guard, carefully watching whatever he eats and compensating for his insulin levels with shots up to six times a day. Dad, Michael, is the “buddy” who helps keeps Jack’s spirits high, but mom, Nichole, stays very busy keeping Jack well.
The painting’s religious significance is also important to Jean and Ed, the couple donating it to the fundraising efforts.
Retired 20 years now from jobs at the air base, they don’t have a lot of money. Things have never been easy. Years ago Ed worked at the post office before taking his savings and opening an ice cream parlor with a friend. It didn’t go well and they lost everything, falling into tremendous debt. To save his family, Ed borrowed a few hundred from his insurance policy, bought a cab and began driving the streets of downtown Niagara Falls before eventually taking a job at the air base. Jean worked throughout their marriage as well. In between they raised two sons and dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ, the child depicted in the painting. Their lives, they say, have been blessed.
Ed and Jean’s own sons are “just unbelievably wonderful,” Jean said. “They never gave us one minute of worry or problem.” Both sons have good jobs and provided the couple with six grandchildren.
“We’ve been blessed with all this by God, and now we want to use this painting as a blessing,” Ed added. “We do well. We’re both retired. We pay our bills every month. There’s a little left over and we’re happy.”
As for the painting, it appears hand-painted and is unsigned. The backside is wormwood that appears very aged. Ed remembers having someone from Niagara University come and look at it several years ago and thinks they valued the painting for several thousand, but he can’t find the paperwork. When I called the university, they couldn’t find it either. They suggested I call Nina Freudenheim, a fine-art gallery owner in Buffalo. When I called her, she generously agreed to counsel the Schroeders on determining the painting’s worth.
Beyond Ed and Jean, I also heard from Jack’s mom, Nicole Schroeder, that last week’s column inspired a young man from Youngstown to also begin raising money for the Lucy fund. And over at First Niagara, where anyone can make a donation, more than a handful of people responded to the column by donating their hard earned money to help bring Jack’s dog home.
I especially enjoy telling stories like this one. I like that in this job I so often find evidence that there are more far more good people in this world than bad ones. And I like being able to spread that news around.