By Laura Colvin
-Kuna Melba News editor-
Earl Hamm thinks it’d be great to have a golf cart – the electric kind, maybe with a fun musical horn, to let folks he’s coming.
So when Earl had the opportunity to ask for something from Wish Granters, Inc., a non-profit organization aimed at fulfilling a fancy for terminally ill adults in Ada and Canyon counties, that’s what he asked for.
A golf cart. But not for the golf course; Earl is hoping a golf cart will help him stay mobile so he can get around his end of the Kuna community to dole out produce and other food, and check in on his neighbors while he’s at it.
“Earl wants to continue to do the good work he’s been doing for a long time,” said Doug Raper, executive director at Wish Granters. “We tend to see that a lot with adults; they often ask for something for others, rather than for themselves.”
For Earl and Patty Hamm, that’s just the way it is; “doing for others” is the story of their life together, and it’s a story neither is ready to let go of.
But Earl’s Marfan syndrome may not leave them much choice, and that’s why DK Cullin of Kuna decided it was time to organize an event to honor the couple.
“We don’t want to dwell on illness, so we’re calling this a “Celebration of Life” to honor Earl and Patty, both,” Cullin said, noting as long as she’s know the Hamms, they’ve always been involved and concerned about the well-being of friends, family, neighbors and strangers. “People from all over the place know and love them. It’s time for everyone to give something back to them.”
Earl and Patty ran Kuna Good Neighbors, a nonprofit organization, in cooperation with the Idaho Food Bank to distribute food to the needy around Kuna for many years. They’ve also distributed El-Ada Commodities, ran Kuna’s Toys for Tots program, assembled food boxes and facilitated gifts of cash, firewood and clothing at Christmas.
“You never see them without a smile, no matter what they’re going through,” Cullin added.
And right now—although neither lets on—they’re going through a lot.
Earl, 55, has been living with Marfan syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue, his whole life.
According to the National Marfan Foundation (NMF), people with the condition are often tall—usually, but not always, taller than others in their family—and often have disproportionately long arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Other features of Marfan syndrome can include an indented or protruding chest bone, scoliosis, flat feet, and nearsightedness and dislocated lens.
But the NMF says aortic aneurysm, caused by an enlarged aorta, is the biggest danger people with Marfan syndrome face. The aorta is the large blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart, and without proper life style and medical measures, Marfan syndrome can cause it to rupture or tear. When this happens, it’s often fatal.
Earl knows all about Marfan, so much so that he and Patty are head a support organization in Idaho, and he’s always taken those important measures. He’s already had his chest opened three times, as a matter of fact.
“I’ve always had this, always had to have surgery to get these things fixed, and I always knew there’d be more,” he said.
That’s why the prognosis he received during the most recent trip to Stanford Hospital, left Earl and Patty both feeling stunned, and caught off guard.
Earl’s coronary artery is becoming detached from the graft put in when surgeons opened him up 20 years ago, and causing blood to leak and accumulate in a large pocket near the top of his heart. More surgery, suddenly, is no longer an option.
The doctor was matter-of-fact.
“He said he wouldn’t do it,” Earl recounted. “He said ‘I’m not going to be the one who kills you.’”
But Earl is pretty matter-of-fact about the whole thing, too, and, while he admits the news made “a mess” of him the first day or two back from the hospital, he didn’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for himself.
“I’ve never been one to sit around watching TV, or anything like that,” he said. “I’ve been out pulling weeds.”
Earl and Patty, after all, are proud of their home, and their yard, and say it’s their pride and joy.
Their one-acre lot is currently exploding with colorful flowers and vegetable beds, where, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, garlic, cabbage, lettuce and more are growing in abundance. Four or five wild-domestic rabbits hop free in back, and out front, a very tall knight in shining armor stands watch. He’s originally from a California movie set.
“We’re both country people,” said Patty. “We both go bonkers if we have to go the city.”
But a yard like Earl and Patty’s takes a lot of work to maintain, and while Earl feels OK—nothing really hurts—he gets winded, and tires easily, even with the oxygen.
“Holding still, he does OK,” Patty said.
And that’s a problem.
“It’s hard to get much done holding still,” Earl rings in.
Neither has had much practice at holding still.
The couple met through a classified ad Patty placed in the newspaper after an ugly divorce showed her exactly what she did not want in a mate. They tied the knot some 24 years ago.
Together, they raised Patty’s two boys from her first marriage, but Earl wanted to avoid passing on his disorder, so they opted not to have more children.
But since they both came from large families, they knew they had something to offer, and ultimately provided more than 20 years of therapeutic foster care for “a couple dozen” kids.
Most were “tough cases” and came directly from juvenile detention or drug court.
In the foster community, Earl and Patty had a reputation for being firm but fair, and were often sent the kids who’d used up all their other options.
The longest charge, Josh, lived with them for nine years. Several others stayed for 4-6 years and some came and went rather quickly; one young man who ran away within the first hour was returned, but apologized and said he had to run away again. And that’s what he did.
“We put a lot of kids through Kuna schools,” Earl said, laughing about all the time he and Patty spent in the principal’s office.
Success with the kids came from the basics.
“Paying attention to them,” said Earl. “A steady routine they could count on. Being home with them.”
Sit-down family dinners, for example, were not for special occasions, but part of a daily routine.
The kids all had chores, they all got allowance and all learned how to have a good time—gardening, fishing, and going to movies in the park—without spending a lot of money. And no video games, ever.
And when the kids got in trouble, they learned how to dig holes—the bigger the trouble the deeper the hole requirement imposed upon them.
“We made good hole-diggers out of all of them,” Earl laughed.
Today, four of those foster kids stay close, and to their kids, Earl and Patty are Grandpa and Grandma, and that’s that.
Blood or not, it doesn’t matter. Family’s family.
Earl and Patty also spent countless hour over the years facilitating donations of thousands of pounds of food for several local churches. They also ran the Kuna postal food drive for many years and served as volunteer staff with Treasure Valley Young Marines, organized National Night Out Neighborhood potlucks, and captained the Neighborhood Watch program.
Earl volunteered on the water board, doing maintenance and shut offs for years—although he sometimes just paid the bill instead of doing the shutoff, and at home they maintain a neighborhood and low income email list of about 200 people to help distribute extra garden produce, find babysitters, locate lost pets.
Patty sewed many quilts for the Kuna and FFA auctions, and when she’s sewing she counts on Earl to be her “right hand man.”
He doesn’t mind.
“She’s the brains and I’m the brawn,” he said. “We go together like biscuits and gravy.”
Neither takes much credit for the work they do in the community.
“It seems like the more we do for others the more we get back,” Patty said.
But it’s not like she’s not feeling the toll of the news they received at the hospital.
Everyday is a walk into uncertainty.
“The doctors say he may be able to live a few more years,” said Patty. “Or he may go next week.”
Tears fill her eyes and threaten to spill, but she quickly gains control of her emotions.
“He said if Earl makes it a year, he’ll be surprised.”
Earl, on the other hand, says he already has plans for next Fourth of July.
“I’m hoping to surprise him, he said.
A “Celebration of Life” for Earl and Patty Hamm takes place at the Kuna Senior Center, Saturday, July 28, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
The event will consist of a potluck luncheon.
“Hopefully, people will call and let me know what they’re going to bring,” said Cullin. “That way we won’t end up with 20 green-bean casseroles.”
There’s no set cost to attend, but donations of cash, as well as silent auction items, are encouraged, said DK Cullin, noting proceeds will help pay for Earl Hamm’s mounting medical bills, and also go toward supporting the National Marfan Foundation.
RSVPs requested, but not required, for those who plan to attend. Call DK Cullin at 724-5542
Meanwhile, Wish Granters is still looking out for Earl.
“We’re trying to find someone who can donate that golf cart,” said Raper.
And if no one has a golf cart they want to part with, donations—from an individual or from numerous sources—would allow the purchase of the cart to fulfill Earl’s wish.
Email Doug@wishgranters.org for more information, or call 377-9029 for more information.