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Friends "lift" spirits of longtime volunteer

Lift chair donation makes life easier

by: Submitted Photo - Sherrill Eaton and pups Bambi, right, and Thumper, center.


   After years of helping others, Sherrill Eaton got surprised with a gift of help for herself -- in the form of a donated lift chair.
   Friends "Zim" and Julie Zimmerman wanted to let Eaton know how much her volunteer efforts had been appreciated by the seniors, shut-ins and homeless people she had served. So, when they learned her lift chair had broken, they jumped at the chance to replace it as a thank you gesture.
   Checking around, Zim asked handyman Joe Fowler how much it would cost to fix the gears on Eaton's chair and was told $250-$350.
   Overhearing the conversation, Lyle Rehwinkel said he had his late father-in-law George Snow's lift chair in his garage, and if it was OK with his wife Laura, they could clean it up at his Details Plus shop and donate it.
   The delivery of the chair on Friday, Dec. 9, was a very welcome Christmas gift for Eaton, and will make her life easier.
   Eaton, 58, has difficulty getting around and out of a chair because of health problems including diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, having broken her back in the past, and having had knee replacement surgery.
   She was a shut-in herself at one time, and even lived at East Cascade Assisted Living for a few years, so she can empathize with others in those situations.
   "She was bedridden for a while. I actually met her when I was a case manager for seniors," said Therese Helton, who directs Volunteer Services for the Jefferson County Department of Human Services.
   "Volunteering gave her a new lease on life. I've seen her really blossom," Helton said.
   In her earlier years, Eaton served from 1974-80 in the U.S. Army in Frankfurt, Germany, then as an aide to a three-star general at a field unit in California.
   "Three months after I got out of the service, I broke my back," she said, explaining she climbed up on her roof to fix a fallen antenna during a big wind storm and fell. She lay on the ground until her 4 1/2-year-old son found her and called for help.
   In 1980, she ran a daycare business at Crooked River Ranch until health issues forced her to quit. "After I recovered, I started taking care of others," she said.
   Eaton started volunteering six years ago when an elderly lady asked if she would give her a ride to pick up day-old bread. Madras Safeway donates day-old bread and baked goods to the senior center and welfare office, she noted.
   "I started taking bread to shut-ins; first one, then another. One little lady said she had a friend who needed it, but wouldn't ask for help. So, I'd show up and say `I have an extra loaf of bread, can you use it?' Eaton said.
   A member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which runs the local food bank, Eaton started giving people rides to the food bank. "A lot of them were too proud to ask for help," she said, but she found ways to encourage them. "I figure, the Lord made it available for us to use," she said of the food donations.
   "At one time, I had 15 clients I took bread to," she said of her delivery rounds.
   For a while, Eaton kept her own mini food locker for her clients, which other people donated to, and a furniture stash, from which needy people could borrow.
   "I had a couple of homeless folks that lived by the canal or trestle, and was kind of leery of taking food from the food bank to them. but the Lord always took care of me," she said of her wide-ranging deliveries.
   In fact, one time she even took in a homeless person. "A homeless fella stayed with me eight weeks until we got him a place, and bless his heart, he's stayed off the streets ever since," she said proudly.
   While Eaton was in assisted living, she made several friends, including Nina Patterson. "When Nina passed away, her boys gave me her lift chair, but I wore it out," she said of her first chair.
   She continued to visit those friends after she got her own place at Willow Creek Apartments in 2000. "I'd visit the nursing home and make my rounds with my critters," she said, pointing to her two "chiweinie" dogs (half weiner and half Chihuahua) "Bambi" and "Thumper."
   Eaton sat with and held the hands of two elderly friends in the nursing home until they passed away.
   Therese Helton noted, "She started helping with Volunteer Services in 2008 and would put in 200 hours a month. She'd sit with people at the hospital eight hours a day sometimes." For that dedication, Eaton was named the Volunteer of the Year in 2010 by Volunteer Services.
   But a bout of ill health finally forced her to stop delivering bread and making her rounds. Last Christmas, she got a virus and nearly died of kidney failure. "But I'm fighting my way back to good health," she stated.
   Four months ago, Eaton quit steady volunteering, but said she still checks on her shut-ins by phone.
   "She was in tears when she came and told me she couldn't help as much," Helton said.
   In her apartment, Eaton is on oxygen and uses a walker and cane to get around. She doesn't turn the heat on much, because she can't afford it. Instead, she wears a coat and captures some solar heat from her south-facing window.
   She has three grown children, two in John Day and one in Washington, and will spend Christmas with her daughter in John Day.
   But before she leaves, Eaton will fill a box for a needy local family. "This year, I picked a single mom and her children and will provide gifts for them to give each other for the holidays," she said.
   Many people have told her she inspired them to carry on, despite troubling health issues. "Because if I can do it, they figure they can, too," she laughed, adding, "I've given them the inspiration to get up and get going."
   Of her years of visiting and delivering food, Eaton said, "I'm just trying to be helpful when I can. Everyone needs a smiling face now and then."