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Toward the end of their journey

April 21, 2016
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

Back in the 1970s and '80s, I worked at Twinbrook Medical Center in Erie. I ran the lab for the sprawling facility that housed Dr.K's gerontology practice (treatment of the elderly) as well as a nursing home.

When I started, I was certain I'd never last in what I considered a depressing setting. But, I came to love the patients and staff so much that I stayed on for more than a dozen years.

Among the many "salt-of-the-earth" folks I got to know were several from the Findley Lake/Sherman corner of Chautauqua County.

One of these was Lee Rater, a tall and lanky retired farmer who had spent his life tending the land. Now, with some health problems, Lee was living his final years in Twinbrook.

But rocking chairs and TV weren't for Lee. He began using the home's wood shop to craft wooden train sets for children.

When he wasn't sleeping or joining his fellow residents at mealtime, Lee was cutting, sanding and painting. With careful attention to every detail, he managed to turn pieces of wood into small treasures.

Today, somewhere stored away with other keepsakes, there are small wooden train sets that still bear the mark of this gentle man's hands.

Another area resident who was in Twinbrook at the time was Ken Neckers.

We knew Ken long before I saw him in the nursing home.

For our first Christmas in Findley Lake we asked around about where to buy a tree. Everyone told us Ken had the best Christmas trees in the area.

So, one snowy day we bundled up our three little munchkins, grabbed the axe and headed up to Ken's tree acres on Bailey Hill Rd.

After trooping around in ankle deep snow for what seemed like hours, we finally came to a tree that the five of us agreed would be the Schenk Christmas tree of choice for our first Christmas in Findley Lake.

George chopped down the chosen fir. Then we paid Ken, dragged the tree to the car, tied it securely and made the trip back home to Shadyside Road.

Later, when we set the tree in the corner of the living room, brushed off the snow and checked it over, we found a bird's nest on one of the braches. For the little ones, it was the perfect Christmas bonus.

When we told Ken about our find later, he winked at George and said, "Well, I won't charge you extra this time."

A third area resident I got to know during this period was one of Findley Lake Elementary School's most beloved teachers.

Maude Skinner had taught generations of local kids. She was that "grandmotherly" kind of woman who makes every child feel special.

I first met Maude when the Rescue Squad was called to her home. She had some growing health problems and her doctors said she could no longer live alone.

I remember how sorrowfully she looked through every room one last time before we left.

But, she was soon comfortable at Twinbrook and, for a while, enjoyed the companionship there.

However before long, the symptoms of her illness, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), took over and Maude slowly lost her battle.

Lee and Ken and Maude are gone now. But, in addition to leaving a lasting impression on my life, each of them were part of the early generations who made the Findley Lake and Sherman areas the friendly communities they are today.



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