Around Ravenna

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Love a love story? Me too! That's why when Susan Locke told me about her daughter's wedding it just had to be passed on.

Seven years ago, Natalie Locke was listening to a website (Coast to Coast) and then got on their chat room. She talked with Francis Brennan of Dublin, Ireland. They kept up correspondence for more than three years, then they lost track of each other only to get reacquainted four years ago.

In 2010, Francis made a trip to the United States and came to visit the Lockes. He was staying in a motel in Brimfield, but the weather didn't cooperate so Gary (Natalie's dad) brought him to their home and he stayed the rest of the visit. That was when Gary and he got well acquainted. (He met with Gary's approval then and there!)

In May 2011, Francis returned and he and Natalie took a trip to Chicago - got engaged. Another trip across the pond in November for Thanksgiving. In May 2012, the immigration process began. Once it was started, Francis wasn't allowed to come back to the States until it was completed. The wedding date was set for November.

On a sad note, Natalie's father, Gary Locke, passed away Sept. 16. Requests to rush the immigration process hit a snag and Francis couldn't be here for the funeral.

The wedding plans were definitely a labor of love for this family. Susan's sister, Maria Weakland, made Natalie's wedding gown and Kathleen Di Paola did all the wedding decorations. Her godfather, Bill Barber, and Mary Beth, his wife, bought Natalie's wedding flowers. Definitely moral support for the family.

Immigration Service -- not so friendly. It was the week before the wedding that Francis got the O.K. to come to America. The following Wednesday his mother, father, brother and sister came from Ireland. The first time they had met their future daughter-in-law and her family.

His father and brother got fitted for their tuxedos on Thursday and the beautiful wedding was held on Saturday. The wedding took place two months after Gary passed away, but we know he was there in spirit .

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My granddaughter, MaryBeth Pavlick, and I volunteered at the Center of Hope in Ravenna's Christmas food and toy distribution this week. What a surprise and a wonderful one at that! When we arrived -- seated at the registration desk were familiar faces, Sue Widener, Margaret Courtney and Christy Anderson of Kent.

Julie Piccione-Beach had invited me to come out and see how the operation works. She is being trained to replace Dee and Jack Kline, who have been the coordinators for the past 18 years. They have done a wonderful job and were recently honored as outstanding senior volunteers. I can understand why.

Anne Marie Noble, director of Emergency Outreach Services and Family Community Service, gave me some statistics for this year. At Thanksgiving, 850 food boxes were given to families in need in Kent and Ravenna.

This Christmas, 1,100 children will receive toys and their families food. There were eight registrations for pre-registering. They're given times to come in (25 per half hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) during a two-day period. This operation is so well organized. It takes weeks to sort and pack the food and toys. Then an inventory to make sure there is enough.

Volunteers from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ravenna High School, Fortis College in Ravenna, staff from Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, Portage Community Chapel in Ravenna and other churches and many members of the community were on hand to assist.

Donations come from all walks of life in the community: Kent State University fraternities, Kent and Ravenna downtown merchants, Kent Lions Club, to name a few.

With a crowd like this -- off-duty Sheriff deputies volunteer traffic control, as do hard working trustees from the jail, who do a wonderful job.

I can't begin to name all the volunteers, but what struck me were the number of young people who willingly gave of their time to help others. Too many times we hear the negatives about our youth. They were absolutely wonderful helpers. So, although I didn't get everyone's name (and I'm sorry if I missed yours) here are just a few I did get to talk with.

From Ravenna High School -- Tyler Coia, Cameron Hinton, Brandon Coia, Mason McLeod, Erica Thomas, Madison Spagnuolo, Julia Sott, Joseph Adametz, Olivia Sott and Lauren Van Meter.

From Roosevelt High School -- Courtney Marquardt, Erin Bennett, Victoria Conrad and Hannah Cuppett.

So many stories to touch your heart at this time of year. I'm forever thankful to live in a community where caring for someone less fortunate is still an ongoing tradition.

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Gerry's note 2012 -- Just a great big "thank you" to all the wonderful people who have shared their stories this year and with that I'll leave you with this. May you always have love to share, health to spare and friends that care. And may you always believe in the magic of Christmas.

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For Ravenna news, call Gerry Lewis at 330-325-3119.

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