Giving thanks: Community members reflect on 2020

Krista S. Kano Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal
Silver Lake resident John Schluep, a Vietnam-era veteran of the U.S. Army, returns dog tags to the Warriors' Journey Home recovery tree Nov. 17, 2020, after picking them off the ground following a storm at the Tallmadge Veterans Memorial at Tallmadge Circle. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

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. Here are some community members who shared what they're thankful for. Here is what they had to say.

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. 

Leona Farris

Leona Farris

At 103 years old, Leona Farris is thankful to be alive to see the first Black woman elected vice president of the United States, who just happens to be a sorority sister. And she's thankful that she voted absentee with ease. 

Like Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Farris is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the first historically Black Greek-lettered sorority that was founded at Howard University in 1908, just nine years before Farris was born. 

Farris' daughter, Laura Farris-Daugherty explained that she is a Diamond AKA, meaning that she has 75 or more years as an active member. Farris now has 82 years of membership.

"She's a rarity in her sorority and is treated like royalty," Farris-Daughtery said. 

Farris, who now lives in Copley, has also been honored by the local community.

In 1987, the Leona W. Farris Scholarship was established at the University of Akron, where she taught for 20 years.

Last month, the Stow Parks and Recreation Department Board approved the renaming of Silver Springs Lodge after her. Farris is a member of the first Black family to move to Stow in 1954. 

Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education is also planning to pass a resolution in her honor. 

Pastor Jim Case

Jim Case and his wife Jeannine

Pastor Jim Case's retirement isn't quite what he expected.

After 41 years in ministry, the last nine of which were at Community Church of Stow, Case retired on Feb. 29, went on vacation to Florida with his wife Jeannine and returned to a pandemic. 

Still, there's much to be thankful for this year, said Case, 76. 

"I am so thankful for the armor of God that is put upon our police and fire departments to keep them safe as the first responders, as nurses and doctors who gave and give their all without thinking of themselves. That's something we should all be thankful for. Their giving is our reward because they're helping us," said Case, who was a firefighter in Munroe Falls and Mogadore for 26 years and is currently serving as the chaplain to the Stow police and the Tallmadge police and fire departments. 

As he's celebrating Thanksgiving this year, which will be a smaller than normal gathering, he'll also give thanks for a successful hip replacement, his uncle Earl Young who taught him that prayers should not be written but spoken from the heart, and his father Bill Case who taught him the importance of kindness and helping neighbors. 

Chris Klonowski

Chris Klonowski, left, with her late daughter Amanda on Amanda's 25th birthday.

In a year filled with hardship, Chris Klonowski is thankful for four things: Being able to offer scholarships in honor of her late daughter Amanda, returning to school, having wonderful holiday memories of Amanda and their family, and health. 

In 2017, Amanda lost her battle with addiction, and after a year of numbness, Klonowski decided to raise $500 so that she could offer a scholarship to a local high school student in her honor. 

Two years later, Klonowski has now given out $26,400 in scholarships through the Honor Amanda Foundation and raised nearly $70,000 by selling beaded angels through an online store and at local craft shows and by holding large fundraisers, which previously raised $10,000.

Due to the pandemic, Klonowski, 50, hasn't raised a single penny — she closed her online store, didn't attend any craft shows and canceled her fundraiser.

"I still have quite a bit of money in the scholarship account, so I didn't feel a pressing urge to put my health and others' health at risk, when I know I have enough to get me through another round of scholarships," she said. 

With more time on her hands, Klonowski decided to fulfill a life-long goal of finishing a four-year degree, and this summer enrolled at Kent State University, 25 years after graduating with an associate's degree from Stark State. 

"I had children, raised a family and life took over. This year, I thought since we're all stuck at home with this COVID mess, I wanted to do something productive that also made me feel connected to Amanda. She had attended Kent State University and got her four-year degree in three years," Klonowski said. "I'd been tied to these scholarships, and education is so important to me, so I thought 'Why not? I have the time now.'"

Klonowski expects to finish her degree in integrated studies next year as she continues to run the Honor Amanda Foundation. 

While going back to school and continuing the scholarship program has been huge for Klonowski, this season she's most thankful for holiday memories and health. 

"We had a strong family tradition of getting together for Thanksgiving, making dinner together and just all the warm fuzzies that mother and daughter get to share during the holidays," she said. "I have a lot of good memories to draw on. My family has been healthy, we've been doing OK through all of this, so we're very fortunate in that way." 

To apply for scholarships or to donate, visit https://www.honoramanda.org/

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ. 

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