As late summer afternoons go, Joan Bellman couldn’t have picked a better Sunday to sit out on the back patio of her rural Kalida home and enjoy a good book.
It was the middle of August and the bright blue skies were at their finest as temperatures rested just above the 80-degree mark.
Life was good, but how things can change with one phone call.
On Lake Erie that afternoon, Joan’s husband, Paul, was in search of walleye. It was a trip he made three or four times a summer with the Winkle brothers, Ron and Ryan, and Ben Sullivan. Fishing for walleye on Lake Erie during the late summer means you have to move to the deeper waters of the eastern basin, so Ron’s boat left from a marina near Ashtabula, a good hour on the other side of Cleveland, closer to the state of New York than Kalida.
They, too, were enjoying a beautiful day. The waves on the lake were flat, making for a calmer boat ride as the four fishing buddies headed a few miles off shore.
Joan Bellman had left her cellphone inside the house and never heard the first three phone calls. When she did get the fourth, it left her frozen. About that time, Ron Winkle’s wife, Wanda, arrived to check on her friend.
“I answered the phone and it was a nurse. She began telling me my husband was brought in and he was experiencing stroke-like symptoms. I nervously said, ‘That cannot be … he’s on the lake fishing.’ The nurse tried to explain, but I couldn’t hear a word she was saying. I was in shock and just handed the phone to Wanda.”
It was 3:30 p.m. By 5 o’clock, Joan was on the road with her married daughters, Christy and Courtney, who frantically left their children and husbands behind. Together, the three headed down U.S. Route 30, depending on a phone’s GPS to get them to a place where they’ve never been.
Paul Bellman had suddenly felt nauseous on the boat, which the Winkle brothers found odd because Paul never was one to get sea sick, even when the lake whipped up six-foot white caps. It wasn’t long after that when Paul’s speech became jumbled and he lost feeling in his right arm.
Ron, his brother and Ben Sullivan quickly cut the fishing lines, which were hundreds of yards out. There was no time to real in. As they raced back to Ashtabula they radioed the Coast Guard, which alerted medical workers. It wasn’t long after Paul Bellman was on shore that he was being flown to the Cleveland Clinic.
A beautiful Sunday in August was no more. Instead, it was the beginning of a journey that turned the Bellmans’ lives upside down. During the next six weeks, Paul would undergo two major surgeries, one to remove a brain tumor and the second to remove a tumor in his kidney that was the size of a football.
Thankfully, he’s cancer free now, but it’s something that needs to be constantly checked.
Joan Bellman will never forget Aug. 16, 2015, nor the six weeks that followed. She says she now fully understands what she already thought she knew.
“People will sometimes make fun of small towns because everybody knows your business, and maybe that’s true to a degree. But people really step up in small towns to offer their help and support. Within two hours after the call, I’m told there was a prayer chain going around Kalida.”
She said her husband works construction and she always worried about him being injured on the job, “but never, anything like this.”
“For it to happen out in the middle of the lake, and then to be so close to one of the best hospitals in the world, the Cleveland Clinic, we’re so fortunate. I have a brother [Don Buckrath] who lives in Cleveland and has been at our side with each trip we’ve made. We’re lucky in so many ways.”
Then Joan started to laugh. There was one more thing in which to be thankful — meeting Campy Russel, a former star basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers who now is a co-host of the Cavaliers’ pregame and postgame shows on Fox Sports Ohio.
Paul and Joan are both big time Cleveland sports fans.
“We had some time to kill before an appointment and decided to check out the Q (the arena where the Cavs play). We walked past this really big guy and I looked at him, and without thinking, said, ‘Campy?’ He stopped and talked and we took pictures.
“What a really nice man he was.”
ROSES AND THORNS: There’s a proud group of educators holding a blue ribbon as they stroll through the rose garden.
Rose: To Principal Larry Foos and his staff at Shawnee Maplwoood Intermediate School. The U.S. Department of Education designated Maplewood to be a National Blue Ribbon School for academic excellence. It was one of just 14 Ohio schools to receive the honor.
Rose: To Kent Fultz, owner of Crankers Cycling in Lima. The North West Street store was named one of “America’s Best Bike Shops for 2015” by the National Bicycle Dealers Association.
Rose: To Albert A. Baillis, of Ada; R.C. Wiesenmayer, of Wapakoneta; and Mariah Cunningham, of Lima. The Ohio State Bar Association is honoring Baillis for 65 years of service and Wiesenmayer will be recognized for his 50 years of service. Cunningham is receiving the Community Service Award for attorneys 40 and under.
Rose: At age 78, country music legend Merle Haggard is still performing. He’ll be at the Civic Center in Lima on Oct. 22.
Rose: To Mike Melvin, of Lima. He raised $2,677 to help local veterans take advantage of the Findlay-based honor flight program that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., so they can see the war memorials.
Thorn: Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office placed the village of Cloverdale on the unauditable list, noting its financial records from Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2014, were not adequate to complete the audit. What it failed to note was that the village of Cloverdale was nearly blown off the map by a tornado on Nov. 18, 2013.
Thorn: To Elida football coach Jason Carpenter, who was suspended by the school for two games after he slapped a player on the helmet during a game.
PARTING SHOT: “I’ve found that prayer works best in football when you have big kids.” — legendary Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.