Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake residents give thanks for blessings

Community members for faith, health, friendships, freedoms

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Cuyahoga Falls resident Kenny King is pictured at the Natatorium, where he goes swimming every Sunday. King said he is looking forward to assisting with the Thanksgiving meal hosted by Tom Metlovski, owner of Village Gardens Restaurant & Pub. King said he's thankful for the friends he's made in the community.

The Thanksgiving holiday often provides a moment for people to slow down and reflect on what they're grateful for as another year winds down. 2020 has been a year unlike any other in recent history and has perhaps created an atmosphere where people are more attuned to their blessings. The Falls News-Press recently spoke with some community members about what they're thankful for. Here is what they had to say.

Kenny King

A fixture of Cuyahoga Falls, Kenny King can be seen riding his bike around the streets of the city and attending events like the holiday tree lighting. He swims at the Natatorium on a regular basis, plays bluegrass music on his guitar at Village Gardens Restaurant and Pub every Friday, and was often seen at city council meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic forced those sessions to move into a virtual setting.

King said he is looking forward to helping Tom Metlovski at Village Gardens with the restaurant's annual Thanksgiving meal. King said he "will take food" to the cars that pull up to pick up a meal and added he enjoys helping people.

In addition to volunteering at Village Gardens, King said he expects to watch football games, take a ride on his bike and hang out with his friend Jeff Iula on Thanksgiving Day. He added he is thankful for the friendships he has such as the one he has with Iula.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, King said he wants everyone to wear a mask and hopes the virus goes away soon.

"I'm getting tired of it," said King.

John Schluep of Silver Lake, a Vietnam era Army Veteran, returns dog tags to the Warriors' Journey Home Witness Tree after picking the tags off the ground after a storm at Tallmadge Veterans Memorial on the Tallmadge Circle. Schluep said he's thankful for the democratic process of elections [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal].

John Schluep

John Schluep is founder of Warriors' Journey Home, a local nonprofit that supports and assists veterans and their families. Warriors' Journey Home has hosted a Witness Tree program for the last two years. Each day from Nov. 1 through 11, a brief ceremony occurs where 22 dog tags are placed on each tree. There are Witness trees in Akron, Tallmadge, Fairlawn, Green, Streetsboro and Wadsworth. The daily placement of 22 tags on each tree represents the 22 veterans on average who take their lives each day.

Schluep, who lives in Silver Lake, said he is thankful for "the democratic process of elections. I believe our Founding Fathers — probably greatly influenced by our Founding Mothers — were wise enough to say that we're not a monarchy and that the people get to decide. It's of the people, by the people, for the people."

Schluep said he believes in the democratic process and thinks  "those are the kind of things that are worth defending and protecting, which is part of the reason I went into the military. It's also part of the reason why I continue to be socially active."

While noting life can be "frustrating," Schluep said he believes there are a "lot of things to be thankful for." As a retired pastor and social worker, Schluep encourages people to express their thankfulness and gratitude through actions and deeds.

"It's one thing to say we're thankful," said Schluep. "It's another thing to be thankful, to act in thankfulness…We don't really possess [or] own anything. We're stewards of it … and I think our purpose is to share that, and give thanks."

He noted his Warriors' Journey Home group had to "adjust, adapt and improvise" in response to the challenges presented by COVID-19. During the past year, Schluep said members of WJH have connected virtually, by phone or Facetime.

He observed that the pandemic "caused us to slow down," and to "re-evaluate what's important and what's valuable." One such precious item is caring for the planet, including the environment, the animals and our fellow human beings, according to Schluep.

"We can't function isolated from each other," he said.

Schluep said he and his family, and many others will have a "different Thanksgiving" this year. Rather than thinking about how much he will miss a large gathering, Schluep said he will reflect on how "we care deeply about each other."

Schluep said he likes to draw on the wisdom imparted by Tecumseh, who encouraged humans to give thanks for their lives when they rise each morning. 

"If you don't find a reason to be thankful, rest assured, the fault lies within you," said Schluep, sharing Tecumseh's thoughts.

As someone who works with veterans and served as a pastor for 37 years, Schluep said he's seen and experienced hardship.

"My counsel to people who are going through hell is that if you're going to walk through hell, keep walking," said Schluep. "Don't stop. Take a companion. Be thankful for the companionship."

He also noted that people should "let the past be our teacher and not our master, and not live with regrets. Schluep said with each new day people get to choose how to their lives.

"Live it for good," he said. 

Cuyahoga Falls resident Deborah Markowitz Solan is pictured at High Bridge Glens Park. A writer and a speaker, Solan said she's thankful for a loving God, a free country where people can vote and express their views, and the natural beauty of the world.

Deborah Markowitz Solan

Deborah Markowitz Solan, an inspirational writer and speaker, said she is thankful for: "a loving God who forgives me and helps me to love Him and people"; "a loving family who support each other in good times and bad"; "the country in which we live, where we have the freedom to vote and express our views as well as to worship freely"; and "the beauty in creation including animals, oceans, mountains and trees."

This year, as she's navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Solan said she's tried to "maintain a positive attitude."

"Whenever I kind of feel like I'm getting in the fray …I really, really work hard to step back and not let that steal my joy and the gifts that has given me to share with others, which is encouragement and hope," said Solan. 

Solan noted she's had close friends who have been affected by COVID-19. For those situations, Solan said she helps by bringing food to people and calling them to see how they're doing.

"I feel like in many ways I live on mission," said Solan. 

Solan said she's wanted to write a book ever since she retired from her full-time job in 2013, but had trouble finding the time due to her work as a substitute teacher in the Kent City Schools and as a nanny. Once daily life changed due to COVID-19 and she wasn't working in either area, Solan said she worked on the book where she shares anecdotes from her life and discusses how God has helped her "through really difficult times."

"I just think there are a lot of common things that people go through and most people aren't really necessarily comfortable talking about them …," said Solan. "…If I've gone through something that was particularly traumatic or difficult, if I can share that with others to encourage them, then I'm happy."

She noted she feels "fortunate and thankful" that she had the time to write the book and is now seeking a publisher for it.

"I've worked to get that into a finished state," said Solan. "It's something I feel really good about. We'll see what happens."

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Ted Shure conducts the Cuyahoga Falls Community Chorus at a performance that occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic. Shure has directed the chorus for 17 years. He is also the president of the Summit Christian School Board of Education and is serving as the interim director of worship at Grace Baptist Church in Kent. Shure said he's thankful for his faith in God, as well as the fact that he and his family have stayed healthy during the pandemic.

Ted Shure

Ted Shure serves in a variety of roles in the community: Director of the Cuyahoga Falls Community Chorus for 17 years; president of Summit Christian School's Board of Education for seven years; and interim director of worship at Grace Baptist Church in Kent.

Shure said he's thankful "to have faith in God…we have a wonderful God and he's in control. I put my trust in him and I have seen miracle after miracle in my personal life, in my work life…every day it seems like there's something new that I do attribute to His grace."

He added he's thankful he was able to continue working during the pandemic, which included producing church services that his congregation could view online. 

Shure described his work on the board of education as "intense" because COVID-19 was "unpredictable."

While noting there were "no good choices" for the board on how to handle the school year, Shure said, "the only gift is that I'm not alone." He observed that all of the leaders and decision makers in the Summit Christian School community were "facing the same challenges."

"I am very thankful that in the school communities, we were all available to help each other," said Shure. 

As an example, he noted Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy officials helped Summit Christian School officials as they navigated this unprecedented situation.

He observed that the decisions he made as a board member were among "the most difficult decisions I've made in my life" because the choices affected the health and well-being of a large number of people.

He added he's "grateful" that both he and his family members have remained healthy.

The pandemic meant that Shure, his wife and daughter all worked in the same sunroom at their home in the spring. While observing the set-up was "different," and "unique," Shure said, "it was a joy to hear my wife work and see what she does every day."

The pandemic meant that all of the concerts performed by the Cuyahoga Falls Community Chorus were canceled this year. Shure noted it was tough to go through 2020 without any performances, particularly when the day of a scheduled program "came and went" without that concert happening.

He added he's concerned about the mental health impacts of COVID-19, noting that people need to have contact with one another.

"We need to hug each other," said Shure. "We need to be in the same room with each other."

Noting that many people are suffering during this ordeal, Shure said he spends "a great deal of my time praying for folks" who are in situations that are "unthinkable" and in many cases, "scary."

Observing he knows people who think the coronavirus is "no big deal," Shure said he wants people to put aside their personal beliefs about COVID-19 to help preserve the health of those who are most vulnerable. 

He noted if people remember that taking precautions during COVID helps others, "I think we can make this thing go away."

Shure said his daughter recently suggested they visit with other family members on Thanksgiving Day "electronically," and noted he's thankful the technology exists to allow this to happen.

He implored people to "do what's right and protect those around you."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.