New Castle News

October 4, 2013

Photos, Story: Wherry honored with Salute to Courage award

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — James “Jim” Wherry is not accustomed to being in the spotlight.

But all eyes were on him last night as Wherry was honored at the annual New Castle Community YMCA’s Salute to Courage dinner at the Villa Banquet Center. It was just three days before his 76th birthday.

Wherry had enjoyed three years of retirement from Interstate Chemical in Hermitage, where he had been a payroll administrator, when life threw him a curve ball. He suffered a  major stroke in July 2005.

Before that, the Neshannock Township resident golfed, biked, traveled extensively and volunteered for such groups as the Lawrence County Association for the Blind and Habitat for Humanity. That all changed when the family was told that Wherry had sustained the most damaging type of stroke and was unlikely to be rehabilitated.

His wife of 53 years, Elaine, and sons, Jeffrey of New Castle and Michael of Upper St. Clair were hopeful but also discouraged about the days that were ahead. Yet, this husband, father and grandfather to five surprised them with his desire to get better and live a full, active life again.

That hasn’t entirely happened. Wherry never regained use of his right arm and hand, wears a brace that extends from his foot to calf, uses a cane to walk and has difficulty smiling with some drooping on the right side of his face. He also is unable to drive, which he misses greatly.

“I had to teach myself to eat and write with my left hand,” he said.

But he focuses on the achievable — playing bridge several times a week, computer browsing, doing jigsaw puzzles, taking short walks and reading.

Since Wherry had the stroke, he and Elaine have gone on five cruises and plan to do more. He will continue attending his grandchildren’s’ sporting events, go to the movies and out to dinner, and stay involved at his church, First Presbyterian. He is also grateful that he didn’t have serious speech problems, which are often associated with stroke victims.



HUMILITY WITH HUMOR

Elaine shed some tears last night and it was an emotional evening for the entire family.

Ater he learned he was selected as this year’s recipient, Jim said, “I told them there are others more deserving.”

Despite some “down days,” though, he didn’t give up and that is the essence of courage.

His wife acknowledged that her husband is humble but also displays resilience.

“He doesn’t do the ‘oh poor me routine’ or whine and cry,” Elaine said, adding that both have a sense of humor and it goes a long way in some situations.

Cheerful with a playful, frequent chuckle, Jim admits there are times he was discouraged but finally concluded, “I’ll live with this as best as I can.”

He was nominated for the award by his sons and granddaughters, Alyson and Rachel.

The Salute to Courage award is given annually to those who have demonstrated great courage in recovery from an accident, injury or illness, and in living with a disability or through an act of heroism.

“One might expect Jim to be bitter for the things he has lost,” Lynise Massella, YMCA event planner, said. “On the contrary, he laughs, loves, dreams and continues to inspire his family and community. He is living proof that you can’t keep a good man down.”



FAMILY SUPPORT

Jim concedes that if it weren’t for Elaine, “I’d be in skilled nursing care.”

He also credits both sons for their support and acknowledged them while addressing his attentive audience.

“After eight years of not doing much, I know how important family has been.”

Jeff described his father as a strong man and very likable guy who never worried about himself as much as he did others.

“Kids and family came first. We grew up taking responsibility beyond ourselves and learned from him that life is about helping others and becoming good community citizens.”

Michael noted that his father is a role model and demonstrated how to be a good husband and father, and be active in the church and community.

Although strokes are not uncommon, it requires a lot of courage to learn to adapt to the circumstances, Jeff said, adding his dad has learned to live life to the fullest.

“This was a major life change for both my parents,” Michael added. “It was difficult but they adjusted, and made peace with what they can, and not can’t do.”

The honor helps to provide hope and incentive to others in similar situations, he said.

And for others facing adversity, Jim advised, “Face up to your condition and plug ahead as best you can.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)