Pelham-Windham News

Triplets With Muscular Dystrophy Receive Support From Pelham High School

by Karen Plumley

On Wednesday, February 23 the Pelham High School Student Council held a spaghetti dinner and talent show to raise money for the Wilkins family.  “It was a great turnout”, said John Costa, math teacher and advisor of the student council.  “We raised about $3,100 and money is still coming in”.  Many local businesses donated food for the event, including Jim Nagel, owner of Chunky’s.  “He donated a beautiful salad” and also “the cafeteria staff donated their time to cook all of the pasta and sauce”, expressed Costa, clearly grateful to Mr. Nagel and all of the others who donated to the event.  The evening then picked up the pace with a karaoke contest, and a panel of official judges.  “The kids were great”, said Costa, who fondly remembers Lindsay Reardon, senior, and Brandy Peglow, sophomore, “winging it” by singing live when the karaoke machine began to malfunction.  The winners were announced and raffles and prizes were given away which made the event even more special for those who attended.  According to Costa, nearly 300 people showed up with healthy appetites and generous spirits. 

Ray Wilkins, assistant maintenance director for the Pelham School District and his wife Lisa have three beautiful sons.  Tragically, they all have an inherited disease known as Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy.  People with this debilitating disorder experience muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass, and deformity that progresses over a period of time.  Due to the nature of this disease, it can affect any muscle in the body including the heart and lungs and is therefore life-threatening. 

Diagnosed at the unusually young age of 5, Kyle, Patrick, and Matthew Wilkins are now confined to wheelchairs and need constant care.  Currently 13, they have already undergone many corrective procedures including hip replacements, spinal surgery, and calf tendon release surgery.  The family has health assistants who help them, especially at night when the boys are the most uncomfortable.  In addition, their home is now equipped with the appropriate ramps and lifts necessary for the boys to get around.  

The high school has done many of these fundraisers in the past for the Wilkins, and plans to do many more in the future.  The staff also does a teacher dress down day every Friday to collect money for the Wilkins, and some teachers give an annual donation.  “One time we had collected just short of $1.000”, explains Costa, and when students heard that they were short, a few of them took the collection jars and “went up and down the halls collecting money” from their peers.  Needless to say they handily surpassed their goal. 

Although the Wilkins family now resides in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Ray Wilkins was raised in Pelham along with his six younger siblings, and became a custodian for the schools right out of high school.  “They’ve kind of been adopted by the student government and the high school here in Pelham”, said Costa, who had Ray in some of his math classes when he was a student there.  “Both my wife and I work hard for a living.  But with the situation the way it is, we are so grateful to the town [of Pelham] and the schools for all they have done for us.  We are so lucky”, expressed Mr. Wilkins.  “All we can do is live for our kids, and hope for a cure”.  For more information, or to donate to the KPM Trust Fund, contact the Pelham High School main office at 635-2115.

A Warm Welcome Home For Sergeant Andrew Larson

by Karen Plumley

Most of us cannot even fathom the thought of having a loved one fighting in a war.  It is a true test of the spirit for the soldiers as well as the family and friends they are forced to leave behind.  But it is a heroic gesture of the highest kind for a man or woman to risk everything in order to serve his or her country.  Sergeant Andrew Larson, 25, of Pelham is one of these brave individuals.  He returned from Mosuel, Iraq on February 25 after a 13-month tour of duty with the Army National Guard.  He left for Iraq in January, 2004 and during those 13 nerve-wracking months his new wife Jenny was allowed to talk to him at most once per month by telephone and a couple of times per week by e-mail until communications were inevitably shut down by enemy forces.  “He left one month after our wedding”, said Mrs. Jenny Larson, a member of the Pelham Fire Department.  Andrew Larson had been in the armed forces for nearly eight years, having joined right out of high school, but this was his first tour of duty on foreign soil, and his first war.

Sergeant Larson in Mosuel, Iraq with one of his many young admirers.

Sergeant Larson is a member of the 2nd 197th branch of the Army National Guard, and was a team leader in charge of a squad of soldiers while in Iraq.  His group manned a Hum-V that was used to patrol the streets during the day and at night.  The workweek was 6 days long (they had Sundays off) and each day was spent patrolling 12 - 13 hours.  They switched off at night; taking turns in three-hour shifts so that they could each catch up on some well-needed rest.  Sergeant Larson’s other duties included leading his squad on house raids while searching for the elusive weapons of mass destruction, and training the Iraqi police.  According to Jenny Larson, for his many outstanding achievements he won medals and coins numbering at least seven, including an Army Commendation Medal for capturing and destroying enemy mortars as well as for helping to secure the capture of a member of Al Queda. 

Sergeant Larson poses with Iraqi school children in Mosuel, Iraq.

His tour was not without incident.  Two of his squad members were shot and killed by enemy forces.  One was also a very good friend of his.  “He takes this kind of thing to heart”, says Mrs. Larson, and it is not easily accepted or forgotten.  But it is the unfortunate price of war.  Also, Sergeant Larson had his eardrum blown by a mortar that went off right next to him.  “He is just now getting his hearing back”, said Jenny.

While patrolling the streets, a car bomb goes off near Sergeant Larson, in Mosuel, Iraq.

According to his wife, one of Sergeant Larson’s fondest memories of Iraq will be of the children.  They supported the coalition forces and enthusiastically greeted them, even at times running after Sergeant Larson’s Hum-V as they patrolled the streets.  “They loved to see the soldiers in uniform”, described Jenny.  It was hard to see the conditions over there for these children.  According to Larson’s wife, there is no plumbing and people sometimes are relieving themselves on the streets.  “Andy and his squad would hand out candy and water” to the children whenever they could.

Due to the poor conditions for the children in Mosuel, Iraq, Sergeant Larson hands out much needed water while patrolling the streets.

Meanwhile back here in Andrew Larson’s hometown of Pelham, the children also supported him.  A third grade student from Pelham Elementary regularly sent supportive letters to him, and children from St. Patrick School made him a huge Iraqi flag with his name on it, as well as sending him an electric shaver, food, letters, and candy.  “This town has been great”, enthused Mrs. Larson.

It is unknown at this time whether or not Sergeant Larson will need to return to Iraq, but the possibility is always there.  In the meantime, he has been unavailable for comment due to his involvement in demobilization briefings.  There will be homecoming celebration in his honor at the American Legion in April.  Sergeant Larson, thank you for all the work you have done and the sacrifices you have made in order to serve this country.  You are a true hero.  Welcome home!

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