I had a list of several items I wanted to discuss this week but really can’t get up to talk about anything else.
It was one of those weeks punctuated by loss. On social media, we read of no less than three young folks who passed away in recent days. While all have touched many lives and leave huge holes in the hearts of friends and family, I wanted to take a moment to talk about one in particular who I first met as a child but actually got to know much better in recent years.
I first knew Sharyn Rissler as one of the “Martin” girls growing up in Akron. The Martins actually were our next door neighbors on Main Street for many, many years and in those days when kids played together in the backyard, there were certainly many pick-up games shared between families &tstr; including the very athletic Martin girls. Of course I’ve talked many times here about how close everyone was at Akron &tstr; kind of like one big family and in reality, the town really was just one big backyard shared by all. But the Martins were also one of those pillar Akron families well-known by many and related to several others from town including the Royers and Wealands, and I’m sure at least one other I’m not thinking of at the moment. Suffice it to say that just about everyone in town knew the Martins and with most of them staying there in adult life &tstr; that never really changed. They were/are about as ideal a family as you can imagine and were wonderful neighbors.
As years went on, I didn’t see as much of Sharyn, or the rest of the family for that matter, but did know that she was on that amazing district champion basketball team of 1986, which made its run just before I joined the staff here that fall. Her sister Deana or “DJ,” as she was called on the court, also starred in the years to come on the court when I was still covering sports for The Review.
I’d see them all from time to time as the years went on but it wasn’t until I got a very special e-mail in 2009 that I really got to know just how special this family was. The e-mail came from sister Beth, now married to Akron Borough councilman Perry Lorah, and a great athlete in her own right during her years at Ephrata. Beth, just a year older than I, is the sister I probably spoke to the most frequently over the years. But on this occasion, she felt driven to invite me and anyone from my family to a very special tradition they had started at their family homestead along Route 272 in Akron. This stretch of the highway would probably be best known to readers as the former location of the Norka tree farm, which was owned for years by their Royer side of the family. Beth and Perry had their home in that area and each year threw a Mother’s Day party that coincided with the annual Make-A-Wish convoy. If my memory serves me right, this was the wish of their mother Mary for Mother’s Day &tstr; just to be able to sit and watch the convoy with the whole family. Unfortunately that first year I was unable to make it but then the following April in 2010, here came yet another e-mail from Beth asking once again if I would like to join them.
I don’t think she realized it but that was a very difficult stretch of time in my life and the invitation was so very well timed. My memories of going that day went well beyond the idealistic family image I had of the Martins from Main Street back in the ‘70s, to seeing this incredible family enjoying a near perfect day together watching the always emotional convoy. I’m not sure there is an event all year that puts things in perspective, including the overwhelming importance of family, the way that convoy does. And here, right in front of me, was as great an example of family &tstr; extended to dozens and dozens with Sharyn’s kids right in the middle of all the fun &tstr; as I could imagine.
And they were actually dealing with an awful lot themselves. Beth had informed me when she sent out the invite that year that Sharyn had recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer. It was such a festive atmosphere with the family that day, it would have been hard for an outsider like me to realize what had happened. Such a positive group, they went about their tradition as they always had with evidently no shortages of smiles and laughter. In fact, it was easy to forget about Sharyn’s battle in recent years as well because she was so good during long stretches, with an ever-present cheery attitude and kind heart. And we did see plenty of Sharyn, with her oldest daughter Kaylyn playing on the Ephrata girls basketball team with my daughter Morgan for three years and this past year with Donna’s daughter Caroline. She was always there…at just about everything and was always ready to pitch in however she could or help out with rides, etc. And she didn’t just offer to give rides &tstr; Sharyn would look you right in the eye and repeat how serious she was that “anytime” Morgan needs a ride she has one. Kaylyn is the same way and anyone who has gone through the checkout at Weiser’s will see another super positive attitude and ever-present smile.
Towards the end of the past basketball season we knew things had taken a turn for the worse as we hadn’t seen as much of Sharyn &tstr; who was always a fixture right behind the scorer’s table in the gym with her family. Then came the year-end banquet and there was Sharyn, coming up and apologizing to me about not stopping in when Kaylyn delivered subs earlier that week. She was now wearing a surgical mask but didn’t appear to have lost her energy or spirit. The night was incredibly emotional with Sharyn sitting just in front of the speaker’s podium as her senior daughter was honored and her sister Deana tried hard to keep her composure throughout the speech to her eighth grade team.
A few weeks later, mother Mary called in to the paper to let us know that for the second time since Sharyn was diagnosed, Deana had decided to shave her head in honor of her sister during the middle school miniTHON. The photo and story of the sisterly love ran on the front page of the March 12 Review. This family never ceases to amaze me.
With basketball season past, we didn’t hear as much as we typically would. Then Monday morning the news of Sharyn’s passing spread like wildfire through town and on social media. Though she fought an amazing battle, it was hard for many of us to imagine such an incredibly powerful light no longer burning bright as it always had. It was heart-wrenching but inspiring, being logged into Facebook Monday and watching tribute after tribute come rolling into the newsfeed literally right before your eyes. They were so well-deserved though the modest Sharyn would mostly likely wave them off with a smile the way she did when you told her how grateful you were for bringing your kid home for the tenth time in a season.
I have no idea how the Martin family will spend Mother’s Day this year &tstr; that’s certainly a very personal decision. But whatever they decide, we wish them comfort in reflecting on what an amazing mother Sharyn was. For those of us who were able to be around her over the years, she will remain a wonderful example not only of great motherhood but also of the power and influential ability of a kind spirit and positive attitude.
Our sincere condolences go out to Vince, Kaylyn, Myranda, Bryce, Mary, Robin, Beth, Deana and the entire, wonderfully-extended, family.