Cynthia Taggart - Staff writer
Talking about Betty Bolstad's life-threatening multiple sclerosis was difficult for her husband, Dean, last May.
It was probably even tougher to read about his family's medical and financial woes in The Spokesman-Review. Dean had a spotless reputation in Post Falls as a car repairman, and people attached only the kindest words to his name.
But as readers digested the Bolstads' problem, they reached into their wallets, cupboards and hearts.
"It helped an awful lot," says Gladys Corbett, Betty's mother. "It helped ease their stress, pay some bills."
Readers also reached out this year to Sharlene and Don Wade in Hayden and the dozens of exotic birds they rescued, and to Children's Village and the dozens of hapless children whom workers there rescued. They donated $2,000 to Children's Village.
Readers restored their old bicycles to give to children who had none, encouraged crusades against violence and offered their expertise to help those facing trouble.
North Idaho residents showed they clearly care about their neighbors. Tell them who needs help, and they deliver -- good news for the new year.
Sheila Bledsoe's determination to help Dean and Betty Bolstad raised at least $12,000, food and moral support for the couple struggling with incurable disease.
"I felt like we didn't raise enough," Sheila says. She lives in Post Falls. Dean had worked on her family's car. "Now I wonder if I didn't have a bigger job."
Betty died Nov. 15. She was 53.
"I miss her, but, for her sake and Dean's, I'm glad," her mother, Gladys, says. "Now maybe he can get his life back."
Sheila didn't know about the Bolstads' problems until she read about them. Dean had run his auto repair shop in Post Falls until Betty's worsening condition forced him to close in 1995 to take care of her.
By 1998, Betty needed Dean full time. The medical insurance the Bolstads could afford for Betty didn't cover medications or a home aide.
Medicaid offered little help. Dean's priority was his wife, so work was impossible and bills grew unmanageable. He canceled health and life insurance because they couldn't afford the payments.
Sheila was compelled to help.
"He's so honest," she says. "Oftentimes he'd come over to the house, help out my husband, loan him tools, and he wouldn't take any money."
She began with fliers seeking donations, then organized a community picnic. Sheila involved the Lutheran Brotherhood, Soroptimists and other groups. Tidyman's and Super One donated food, and Pepsi donated drinks.
Wind and rain wrecked the picnic, but donations still poured in for the Bolstads, and word spread about their needs.
"I was able to pay off four credit cards," Dean says. "It helped pay a lot of our debt."
Sheila wrestled with her disappointment that she hadn't raised more to help Dean and Betty until she went to Betty's funeral. The pastor told mourners that he'd shared verses with Betty in her last days and was by her bedside.
"I realized that when I started, he didn't have a clue who the Bolstads were, even though he'd married them 15 years ago," Sheila says. Her phone call reconnected the pastor with Dean and Betty.
"At the end of her life, she had the support of a pastor and church and the comfort of hearing the Bible quoted to her," Sheila says. "Maybe that was really what I was supposed to do."
In another example of reader generosity, Sharlene Wade and her parrots, cockatiels and lovebirds received a few hundred dollars in donations after her story ran.
Sharlene lives in a singlewide trailer with her husband, Don. She's rescued African gray parrots kept in cardboard boxes and macaws plucked naked by unsupervised children. At one time, 110 birds lived in an apartment complex of roomy cages in the trailer. They had nowhere else to go.
Readers offered to help because Sharlene works part time in a pet store for $5.75 an hour. Don is disabled with a seizure disorder and back problems. Together, the Wades nurture, clean and protect the recovering flock. Compassion is their only drive.
A few people offered Sharlene bird cages, which she always needs. But no cages appeared.
"People mean well," Sharlene says. "All the people who helped ... it was awesome."
The money bought seed for the birds during a rough time. Times have grown tougher for the Wades since. Don was diagnosed with cancer in his leg six weeks ago. Doctors removed the leg Christmas weekend to stop the cancer from spreading.
Sharlene found friends to care for some of the birds and was able to sell one. The money went toward medical bills. Medicare and Medicaid help but don't cover everything.
Sharlene works 27 hours a week when she's not at the hospital with Don. Her flock is down to 80 and her monthly pay is down to $600. But she doesn't grumble.
"We just keep on going," she says. "I'm just grateful the cancer is nowhere else in his body. He's my best friend. I'd be devastated if I lost him."
She'll still rescue birds and protect them, but outside help with seed, space and support is crucial now.
"I'd lose my mind if I got rid of them," Sharlene says. One bird gently wrapped its wing around her head and said, "I love you, Mama," after she returned home recently from a tough night at the hospital.
"They all know something's
wrong. They've been wonderful."