More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Village atmosphere keeps couple rooted in valley

By Shirley Brenon
Special to The Desert Sun
September 25th, 2001

PALM SPRINGS –– It began with a tingling in her legs at age 17.

Doctors at the time said it was work-related. By the time she turned 25, severe sight problems finally provided a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Fifteen years ago, she was no longer ambulatory but that hasn’t slowed her down.

Pat Kirkham’s life in New Jersey was an outdoor life of horseback riding and swimming. She completed high school in two years and earned an associate’s degree, all by age 16.

Four years later, she moved with her family to Southern California, working as a secretary at McDonnell Douglas. On July 4, 1967, she met Dick Kirkham and they were married the following February.

Dick Kirkham was born in Ecorse, Mich., 8 miles from Detroit, moving to Monrovia in 1944. He also worked at McDonnell Douglas as a manager of engineering administration but changed careers at age 48 when they moved to Palm Springs to start Leather-N-Awl on Palm Canyon Drive.

"We also had an income tax business but wanted to do something different," he said. "Our friend had a successful leather store in Solvang so we chose Palm Springs because we were looking for a busy resort area. At that time, rent was $375 for 900 square feet and when we closed the store 15 years later, it was up to $1,400."

In addition to their business they also bred, raised, showed and trained 28 Saint Bernards. Now they only have Michael, an 8-year-old Doberman.

"Everyone loves Michael as he is a sweetheart," Pat said. "We dress him up at Halloween and he does tricks for the kids. People never ask how I am, only ‘How is Michael?’ " she added with a smile and a shrug.

Pat Kirkham does all her shopping and errands by electric scooter on the sidewalks of Palm Springs but often encounters difficulties.

"There are telephone poles in the middle of the sidewalk, curbs are not cut for wheelchairs and some doorways are not wide enough even though my scooter is narrow," she said. "However, people are amazingly helpful. I manage to keep my spirits up by keeping a good attitude. My advice to others with disabilities is, don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do."

Between them they have three children and four grand children.

Describe your neighborhood.

Dick Kirkham: "It is a quiet and peaceful neighborhood of single family homes, built in the ’50s."

Pat Kirkham: "When we moved here 25 years ago there was a 13-acre parcel across the street from us and I used to enjoy looking out across the field. It has now been converted into a gated community with homes starting around $450,000, which has brought the value of our home up, but I miss the view."

Why do you like Palm Springs?

Pat Kirkham: "I like the attitude, the peacefulness. It used to be a rockin’ place but things moved down valley. It is nice to go down there, but I enjoy coming back to our village."

©2001 The Desert Sun