Former teacher who volunteers at VA doesn't let MS stop her
Mon, Feb. 23, 2004
World War II veteran Doris Merrill zipped down the medical center hallway and out of sight in her motorized wheelchair.
The 80-year-old was off to a therapy room where she regularly volunteers to help patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
There, she teased patient Henry Harter, 91, of Stillwater, and he teased back. That's how the banter often goes between Merrill and her fellow veterans.
"Now you know why I like to volunteer," she said afterward. She loves listening to the veterans' stories.
"I'm still needed," she said.
Merrill helps with a veterans' newsletter and competes in athletic events. She won five gold medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in New York City in 2001.
Merrill, of Nanticoke, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 23, shortly after getting out of the Navy in 1946.
She remains genuine in her humor, laughter and compassion. The former Nanticoke public school teacher is vibrant and talkative, except when her illness brings her down.
She temporarily lost her sight, her voice and her hair in 1978. From her room in another area hospital, she overheard someone say that she had only 24 hours to live. "There's no way I'm dying," Merrill thought. She tried a different drug therapy and eventually rebounded.
When asked if she is a determined person, she replied, "If I have to be."
Merrill was teaching at John S. Fine High School in Nanticoke when her multiple sclerosis affected her ability to walk. Football and basketball players regularly carried her up the stairs of the building.
"I could not have taught without those kids at Nanticoke High School," she said. Even now, she hears from former students there and at Wilkes University, where she also taught.
Her students kept vigil with her husband when Merrill was so sick in 1978. She said the kindness she has given to others has returned to her tenfold.
"God's been good to me," she said.
The oldest of four children, she enlisted in the Navy in 1944. Merrill wanted to do her part for the war effort after her brother, George, joined the Navy.
She worked in Naval Intelligence at Cape May, N.J., where she met the Marine corporal she would marry. A photo of her wedding party is displayed in a case at the medical center. Merrill is wearing a white Navy dress uniform, and her late husband, Paul, and their attendants are wearing dark uniforms.
"It was the best 37 years," she said of their marriage. Their son, Paul, lives in Kingston. Their younger son, George, died 8 1/2 hours after birth.
"That's one time in my life I got very bitter," Merrill said. But the self- pity subsided when she realized she still had her son, Paul, to raise.
The grandmother of three said she wanted to live long enough to become a great-grandmother. That happened in October with the birth of her grandson's daughter, Olivia.
"When the Lord says 'Go,' I'll go."
Copyright © 2004, Times Leader