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I recently wrote about a local figure and a family friend named Ted Zenich, who was diagnosed with ALS in the last year. His battle against the debilitating disease came to an end on Friday, May 15th. His daughter commented on the blog piece:

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers regarding our Dad Ted. As I am sure you have heard, Ted passed away on Friday May 15th, peacfully at home. Your article was very touching and really appreciated. Please feel free to contact us via email if you would like. Memorial Service will be on Thursday May 21, 2009 from 12:00 to 5:00 at the VFW Lodge on Battles.

Thank you again.

I would also like to ask people to keep Ted and his family in your thoughts and prayers. If you want to learn more about ALS, or donate money to research, click on the following links:
Tuesdays With Morrie

Just before my wife and I left, I gave Ted Zenich a tight hug and wished him a happy Easter. Ted, a large man, now in a wheelchair, did his best to hug me just as tightly. Before I could pull away, he weakly held onto my arm and said, “I still have some months. Don’t worry about me.” I smiled and nodded, hoping that he would have more time than that. As I walked away, I took one last look back at Ted. It broke my heart to see him in the state he was in. For as long as I had known him, and for all of the decades my family has known him, Ted was a strong, boisterous, and loving man.

In the last year or so, Ted was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrigs disease. He has lost virtually all of his strength, forcing him into a wheelchair, making it impossible for him to feed himself, and quieting his once booming laugh. When I entered the home that Easter Sunday, I was not sure what to expect, but he recognized me. And, by the glimmer in his eyes, I could see that he was glad to see that I’d come to see him. He also was pretty happy to meet my wife Danielle, and, with some effort, he made sure to shake her hand. Clearly, his mind was still in great shape, despite his body’s betrayal.

As my uncle and aunt spoke to Ted’s kids (with whom they had grown up), they exchanged stories about Ted from their childhood. There was a lot of laughter, moments of quiet reflection, and under it all was a strong sense of respect. Here was a man who, with his faithful wife Darla, raised their children, helped to raise their grandchildren, and, for all intents and purposes, were currently raising their great-grandchildren. He and his wife are at an age when most people start to take things a little slower, but Ted and Darla are strong people who take care of their family. All the stories shared on that day attested to that fact, even if the stories were somewhat colorful and grand.

In Santa Maria, California, Ted is also an institution. Not only a strong supporter of fundraising efforts across the community, Ted is also a prominent local figure in the development of cheap and affordable housing. Since 1978, Ted has been on the Housing Authority board, and has been a vocal advocate for affordable housing in Santa Maria. In February 2007, on an empty 1.6 acre lot, construction began in earnest with a groundbreaking ceremony. By that point, there were 5,000 names on a waiting list. Clearly these homes were needed. But it had been an uphill battle since many in the community feared that affordable, low-income housing would bring an increase in crime, traffic, and lower home values in the surrounding areas. Nevertheless, the homes were approved by the city council, and by the beginning of 2008 the homes were built.

“It’s something you can go to sleep at night and say you did something good for the county and city,” Zenich said at the time. He had been tireless in his efforts, knowing that he was doing something lasting and good for his community. And it is because of his efforts that the 24-home complex was named Ted Zenich Gardens in his honor. And despite the opposition to the homes, crime rates have not changed, niether has traffic, and the homes have actually increased property values in the surrounding area. The homes are quite beautiful, and they serve as a vital opportunity for those among us who are low-income, yet need a roof over their head. Thanks to Ted Zenich, they have that opportunity.

And now, in the last week or so, Ted’s health has dramatically declined. It seems as though he is in his last days. It is a tragedy to see a man, especially in Santa Maria, who is so active in the community lose his life. Not only is it painful personally, painful for his family and mine, but it will be painful for a community that lacks leadership. So few people are willing to look beyond themselves and to the plight of others. I live in the Bible Belt of California, a pretty conservative area, yet I rarely see the kindness and community spirit from our Christian community– instead, I see selfishness and fear: fear of Mexicans and fear of the poor.

In my next blog, I will write more on ALS, and I will keep my blog posted on the health of Ted Zenich. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

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