Looking back, revisiting tales, adventures from time passed

[Note: This follow-up story is from the Steubenville Herald-Star.]

Adena native Kevin Madzia learned a lot about himself this summer during a 4,200-mile, coast-to-coast bicycle ride he completed in a Miles for Melanoma awareness and fund-raising trip in memory of his father, George, who died of melanoma in November 2002.

For one thing, no matter how much you’ve trained, despite the best-laid plans, stuff happens. In Madzia’s case – after setting out on the journey coincidentally on June 20, Father’s Day, the son of Sandy Madzia of Adena crashed and broke his collarbone five days later.

It happened near Harrison, Idaho, and initially devastated Madzia, a 1983 graduate of Buckeye West High School.

In the end, however, even that mishap contributed to an overall positive experience where the former self-employed software engineer raised more than $13,000 and landed a job along the way as an information technology manager for a chain of bicycle shops, moving from Pittsburgh to Chagrin Falls, near Cleveland.

“During the two weeks of riding in the support van instead of on my bike, I got to experience the local flavor of our destinations a little more, and I got an inside look at how to operate a bicycle touring company,” said Madzia, who got back on his bike after two weeks despite doctors’ recommendations to recuperate for four to six weeks.

“I guess I have a good excuse for wanting to do the trip again,” reasoned Madzia of the trek that began in Seattle, Wash., and ended Aug. 21 in Gloucester, Mass.

Crashing, he said, isn’t the only hazard on the open road. So are headwinds and cars.

“We had a few days, mostly on the plains of South Dakota, where constant headwinds made the pedaling less enjoyable than usual,” he said, expecting the west-to-east route through 13 states as well as Ontario, Canada, to put the winds in his favor most of the time. Not so.

As for cars and drivers, most are friendly and courteous but then there are others less receptive to the idea of sharing the highway.

“There are some who do not understand that according to vehicle codes in all 50 states, bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities on the roads as do cars,” Madzia explained. If you are driving and approach a cyclist from behind, you should react the same way as you would when approaching any other slower-moving vehicle. If you are near a curve or a blind spot where it is not safe to pass, then do not pass, but wait until you can see oncoming traffic clearly and provide plenty of clearance for the cyclist on your right,” he said.

Madzia said many people also don’t realize that a bicyclist is not required to ride on the shoulder of the road. “Sometimes there is no shoulder and where there is one, it is often littered with dangers such as cracks, gravel and broken glass,” he said, pointing out that the trip included one car-bicycle collision that fortunately didn’t result in serious injuries.

Even so, the trip rates as one of the best, if not THE best experience of Madzia’s life as he rode through mountains, plains, national parks, monuments and other scenic areas. Some of the most memorable moments were ones shared with fellow cyclists and people along the highways and in the cities and towns along the route.

“Everyone has a story and they enjoy listening to yours as much as they enjoy telling theirs,” he said. “All of the people who supported my fund-raising for The Melanoma Research Foundation took my effort seriously and for that I am sincerely grateful,” he said of the trip where he experienced a variety of emotions.

In the beginning, for instance, there was excitement and anticipation mixed with nervousness and apprehension.

“You might think this nervousness came from the expected physical and mental challenge of cycling those great distances every day (about 75 miles), but oddly enough, I think for most of us, we were just worrying about the mundane details of day-to-day life on the tour,” he said.

But concerns of what time to get up and where to do laundry quickly evaporated as the riders settled into a routine, focusing instead on fully enjoying all the positive aspects of life on the road.

The middle of the trip ushered in an enormous sense of relaxation, according to Madzia. “When you take a typical vacation of say one or even two weeks, you have barely started to relax and enjoy yourself when it’s time to start thinking about packing up and heading home again,” he said. “During this trip, often the biggest decision we would have to make during the day would be something like what should we have for dessert? And then we would just laugh out loud with the realization that we had several more weeks just like that to look forward to,” he added.

Near the conclusion of the trip came regret that it was ending.

“We would miss the pedaling through some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in our country, but we were surprised to realize that what we would miss most of all would be each other,” Madzia said.

“The roads, mountains, valleys and lakes would be there to ride again another day, but we would never again experience this exact same collection of people who had come together to share this epic journey. We had come from all over the country as well as from England, Belgium and Australia. Some were 22 years old and fresh out of college. Some were experiencing mid-life transitions. And some were enjoying their golden years, including a 75-year-old retired crab fisherman from Louisiana who was making his third trip across the continent by bicycle,” he said.

None of them, he added, had ever been a part of such a diverse group that worked, played, talked and laughed together so well.

Riding a bicycle is a unique way to travel. Part of the appeal is the slower pace and the chance to experience the true local culture, according to Madzia.

“People that you meet along the way have an instinctive trust of somebody on a bicycle,” Madzia said of the journey where strangers never seemed to refuse a favor, whether it was giving directions, refilling a water bottle or providing a lift in the back of a pickup truck to the local laundromat or ice cream shop.

While Madzia got a new job in a new city, he also came away with some different viewpoints.

One is not being so concerned about material things. “I spent two months with nothing in my possession except my bicycle and the clothes and other necessities that could fit into two duffle bags,” he said. The whole time, ironically, he said he never felt as though he didn’t have enough but more like he actually had too much.

“I learned to be more accepting of help from other people,” Madzia said. “This trip put me in situations where I had no choice but to accept that help. If I ever felt guilty about accepting somebody’s help, I could almost always be assured that I would have the opportunity to return their generosity later,” he said.

Most important of all, though, Madzia said the trip marked a milestone or a major turning point in his life, “a way to reboot in order to help me go forward after the death of my dad.”

Getting to know each other

Barbara (Virtue) Wolfe of Steubenville still pinches herself when she realizes 2004 was the year she reunited with the baby sister she wondered if she’d ever see again.

After all, it had been 60 years since the two had last been together and not under the best of circumstances. Barbara was 10 at the time, visiting her sister, Leonda (Virtue) Walker, who was about 6, a resident of the McCullough-Jefferson County Children’s Home at Yellow Creek, which was torn down in 1958.

Barbara remembered how Leonda had cried during that visit, begging her sister to take her with her. Barbara cried, too, vowing she’d find Leonda one day, one way or another.

The day came in August, unexpectedly, but welcomed just the same. It all happened after Gordon Grafton, supervisor of the McCullough Children’s Home off John Scott Highway, came across a variety of old records from the original children’s home – records that everyone apparently assumed had been lost or discarded. Among the findings was a book that listed children who had lived there. In a newspaper feature story about the findings, Grafton had invited people researching their roots to contact him to see the book.

That’s what Barbara ultimately did, discovering her sister had been adopted out to a family in East Liverpool in 1946 and had lived in that Columbiana County ever since.

“It’s a whole new beginning,” said Barbara of what being reunited has meant for the family that also includes sister Wanda Headman of Follansbee and half-sister Rita Long of Steubenville.

“I can’t describe how you feel because we still have that nervous feeling in our stomachs,” Barbara said, adding she calls and visits Leonda. The day after Thanksgiving she and Wanda went to Leonda’s. “We met her children and she met my son, and her sons looked almost like my son. It’s amazing,” Barbara said.

“Our main concern is our brother Bernard and his wife, Betsy June. I talk to her every day and a lot of times he is tired and back on chemo and he has tried to get home so many times,” Barbara said of her sibling and sister-in-law in Arizona, adding the family hopes for a reunion that will involve them. Bernard had never given up hopes of finding Leonda, who is recuperating from a fall in September where she injured her neck, broke three ribs, crushed her left wrist and broke her ulna in half.

On a slow road to recovery, Leonda said she hoped the Christmas holidays would be a time for the sisters to at least get together, New Year’s Eve most likely.

“I’m getting all kinds of cards from nieces and nephews I didn’t even know I had,” said Leonda, who had just celebrated her 66th birthday when her family found her and has since been getting a crash course in the family tree.

Leonda lived in the children’s home from June 1945 through December 1946. “It wasn’t a nice place to be,” she said, remembering one incident when several children had run away from the home and were caught and brought back.

“They chained them to the wall, stripped their shirts off and beat them until they bled and everyone (the other kids) watched. I tried to shut my eyes and the matron told me to open them and watch because this will happen to you if you decide to do it,” she said.

“It was cruel. Very cruel,” Leonda said.

Barbara said 2004 has had its share of tragedy from her son’s house burning down to her brother’s failing health.

“My brother and I have always been so close,” she said.

Barbara added, “2004 was not the greatest year of my life other than finding my sister, but I’ll tell you what, 2005 is certainly going to be a better one. It will be the greatest year of our life because we’re just now learning to accept each other.”

“I know our family will be stronger.”

George get your gun

“This ranks as the biggest feather in my cap,” Brian Powley of Brian Powley Engraving said when he assesses the estimated 230 hours of hand labor he put into an automatic pistol to be presented to President George W. Bush.

A Bloomingdale-area resident, Powley embellished the gun with painstaking detail, a job he volunteered to do after reading that the American Pistolsmiths Guild was looking for an engraver to do a custom presentation gun for Bush, a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

The presidential gun is a Caspian Arms .45 automatic pistol with ivory grips and a gold inlaid serial number all its own: GWB-USA-1. Powley received the gun March 2, spent about a month with the design and planning phase and started the actual engraving work on April 1. It was finished in September and sent to Texas for a metal coating.

The work since has been professionally photographed by world-famous photographer Ichiro Nagata for inclusion in the American Handgun magazine, likely to be published after the gun is presented to Bush. That is expected to occur in February possibly and Powley plans to be part of it.

“I have been invited to go and help in the presentation,” said Powley, who was one of several gunsmiths who had a hand in the presidential gun but his work is by far the most visible, decorative and personalized.

“It turned out exactly that way I wanted it,” Powley said, although because it was a project tackled earlier in the year, all other projects seemed anticlimactic.

The left side of the slide shows a Minute Man framed in a gold oval shooting a rifle left-handed with a tiny log cabin in the background.

The floral pattern scroll work on either side of the oval has flowers with gold inlaid centers. The inscription on the top of the slide reads “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The right side of the slide shows in an oval frame a pair of praying hands silhouetted against a chisel-engraved, fine-stipled American flag. On the top right corner of the slide is the quote “One nation under God with liberty and justice for all.” The gun also sports a small state of Texas, the American Pistolsmiths logo and a solid gold star.

“I don’t think I’ve done any better work,” Powley said, assessing the 2004 project.

And the prospect of going to Texas for the presentation promises 2005 starting off with a bang.

Still titleholders

On May 26, Della (Vecchione) Darmo of Steubenville and her twin sister Marie (Vecchione) DiLoreto of North Lima made history.

And they still are.

At that time 96 years and 227 days old, the identical twins earned the distinction of being the world’s oldest living female twins, according to Guinness World Records Ltd.

In their honor, their family held a modest but merry get-together for the two at Assumption Village in North Lima, the retirement home where Marie lives. Della lives at Country Club Manor in Steubenville, which is part of Bolger Health Care.

Each twin has an official Guinness letter of congratulations and certificate, which family members have framed and mounted in a place of honor.

“People just think it’s wonderful that they’re in the Guinness Book of Records,” said Judy Darmo of Steubenville, Della’s daughter. “They feel honored to know them.”

Judy says it’s not uncommon for people to inquire about “the record-holders” who have since celebrated a birthday, turning 97 on Oct. 12. They were born in 1907 in Barrea, Italy.

While the two haven’t been together since their Guinness celebration, Judy said plans are in the works to hopefully get the sisters together after Christmas, if possible.

The Guinness distinction was a big deal for the family when it came to 2004 events.

“We were just thrilled,” Judy said. “It’s just beyond our wildest dreams that these two would ever be living this long and we thank God for their good health.”

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