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Friday, April 18, 2014

DeMars ‘Rises to the Occasion’
By Ginny Heth
For nearly three decades, extraordinary Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union Address have been invited to join the First Lady in her viewing box. This year, one of those joining her was born and raised in Westhope!
isty DeMars lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her husband, Leighton Taylor and two young sons, ages 1 and 4. At the end of May, 2013 -- just a week after purchasing the home they intended to raise their family in -- Misty lost her job of eight years due to budget cuts. Misty, who had been steadily employed since high school and who put herself through college, wrote to her congressmen and representatives as well as the President upon the expiration of her emergency unemployment insurance, explaining: "We stand to lose everything we've worked for years to build in the matter of months." Misty is one of millions who is left with limited resources, difficult decisions and an uncertain future as she looks for work without the crucial economic lifeline of emergency unemployment insurance.
The first part of January, DeMars received a letter from the White House in which President Obama said ‘we hear you and we are working on it’. She thought that would be the end of it but then, just a few days before the State of the Union Address, she got word that she’d been invited to attend the event!
Accompanied to Washington D.C. by her husband for a whirlwind trip, the couple attended a reception at the white house before Misty headed to the capitol for the address (Leighton stayed behind at the whitehouse, viewing the address in the first family’s private theater with others from the reception.) At the address, Misty sat between Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden. “The whole thing was an amazing experience,” said DeMars. “The atmosphere was one of sharing and wanting to make a difference.”
Michelle Obama's calming demeanor made the whole trip easier, DeMars said. "When I walked up to the first lady, she opened up her arms and gave me the most genuine hug, and instantly put me at ease," she said. The first lady asked about her children and her employment struggles.
As the president read excerpts from her letter during his speech Tuesday, it wasn't easy to keep calm in her front-row seat, DeMars said. “It’s a very personal thing to be unemployed.” Having always had a job, beginning as soon as she graduated from Westhope High School, she finds it hard to be unemployed but she sees others who have worked even more years -- some over 20 -- at her workplace, who also lost their jobs. Misty tearfully recounted a story about a man who was just three years from retirement when his job ended and he left with only half of the pension that he’d been counting on and working towards for his retirement. “The economy in our area is not good,” says Misty. “It’s insulting that during this election year, unemployment is being used as a political thing instead of a personal one. Congress is saying that unemployed people are lazy -- and I am not!” Misty is looking for work in her field and has had some response to her applications but six months is just not long enough to make those connections and get things wrapped up for employment especially in these times when our country is recovering from a terrible recession but we are not ‘recovered’.

Meet Your Neighbors - The Enduring Love of a Mother
By Marlena Chaboudy
For this week's Meet Your Neighbor column, I'd like to introduce you to one of Westhope's new residents, Melanie Stevenson. Melanie was born on June 5th, 1985 to Regina Dodd and Robert Davis. She was born in Gulfport, Mississippi which is the second largest city in Mississippi after the state capitol of Jackson. She is the oldest child in the family, having two younger sisters. Cheryl, who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Kimberly, who still resides in Gulfport where they grew up.
While growing up, Melanie's mother was a stay at home mom and her father worked doing upholstery. He worked long hours and upholstered furniture for the many casinos that inhabit the city of Gulfport. Melanie recollects that there were at least seven casinos in the area where the family lived.
Family played a big part in Melanie's life when she was a young girl. She would hang out with her cousins much of the time and reminisced with me about the huge family barbecues that were held. The youngsters would gather and play at the river that was somewhat close by to where the family lived. Melanie has a large extended family living in the areas of Mississippi and Alabama.
Melanie attended school at Harrison Central High and Gulfport High. She wasn't into sports, but chose to take the artistic route during her high school years. Her favorite medium of art being drawing. For fun, she and her friends would walk and hang out at the mall and go to movies.
Melanie's parents later divorced and when Melanie was 16, her father fell ill to Lou Gehrig's Disease, also called ALS, a progressive and fatal disorder that attacks the nerves and muscles. Melanie stayed home to take care of her ailing father. He passed away at the age of 37 in 2003, right after Melanie had turned 18. Melanie stayed living at the family's home and went to work at Dairy Queen for several months.
Melanie soon found herself in a relationship and the couple moved in together. A year and a half later Melanie gave birth to her adorable daughter Teagan. When Teagan was two years old, her father went into the military and was gone for four long years, leaving Melanie to raise her beloved daughter on her own, although having a family support network of both her family and Teagan's father's, it really seemed that Melanie and Teagan were on their own. After Teagan's father returned from the military the couple tried to make the relationship work but Melanie's interest at this time in her life laid more to making a good life for her daughter, and she set out to do just that.
Melanie went to school to get her GED and even took some college courses, which really didn't pan out... work was more important to Melanie to support herself and her young daughter and the college courses cost more money than she was willing to relinquish, money that could be spent on her daughter.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept through Mississippi. The hurricane was registered as a Cat. 5, but swept through Gulfport at a Cat. 3. Melanie was without power for weeks. Some of her neighbors survived the ordeal with generators. People would stop by the house with food and other items as all the stores were closed. After a week or so, the stores that weren't badly damaged tried to open and people were going back to work. "All the beach front properties and casino's along the beach were gone." recollects Melanie. "Twenty to thirty foot waves crashed onto the beach taking everything with it. It was a horrible experience." Lucky for Melanie, she and Teagan lived inland about thirty to forty miles and the only damage their home received was a hole in the roof. Melanie remembers times sitting out on the porch watching the hurricane and all its fury as it took the chimney right off the neighbor's house across the street from them. After ten years, Gulfport, and everywhere else that was affected by Hurricane Katrina, are still trying to rebuild.
In 2012, Melanie reconnected through Facebook with an old friend that she knew since the eighth grade, Tim Stevenson. In fact, the couple use to date when they were in middle school. During school Tim was in Band and ROTC. At the time of Tim and Melanie’s reconnection, Tim was actually in the military, the Marines, stationed in North Carolina, but was deployed and aboard a ship. In December of 2012, Tim returned home to Gulfport on leave and the two met up and rekindled the old flame. “It was just meant to be,” smiled Melanie. The couple was united in marriage on March 8th, 2013 in their home town of Gulfport, Mississippi while Tim was on leave. After a mere week of wedded bliss, Tim returned to North Carolina to the military base. It wasn’t until June of 2013 that Tim finished his stint in the Marines and returned to Gulfport to be with his new bride and new daughter, Teagan.
At that time, Tim had a friend that lived in Westhope and he talked the couple into moving to North Dakota. It was a chance for their small family to get away from the crime that comes with living in a big city, and, as Melanie related to me, also an opportunity to make more money in wages. The couple drove for two days to Westhope, North Dakota.
Tim is now working for Anderson Trucking and Melanie is enjoying being a stay at home mom. Melanie admits that she is still not yet quite use to living the small town life, having lived in such a large and busy city her whole life. Tim and Melanie are making friends here in Westhope, and Teagan, who is a second grader at Westhope School, is enjoying her small school and friends and has even started her first year as a Girl Scout, which she loves!
Melanie’s hobbies include sewing, reading, and her life long love of drawing. She also enjoys cooking and baking. That is the ‘southern’ in her coming out, claims Melanie, “We were just raised that way,” commented Melanie with a laugh, “It didn’t matter what else you did, right or wrong, if you could cook... you were it!”
The family is renting a house on the east side of town that is owned by Chet Houmann. Melanie is a very fun and friendly person and is very interesting to sit and talk with. I really enjoyed my chat with Melanie and on behalf of all of our neighbors, Welcome to Westhope Stevensons!
Melanie’s plans for the future are to finish school to be the RN (Registered Nurse) that she started out to be all those years ago. She would also like to have more kids and buy a house of their own... to achieve the more permanent things that life has to offer.
“A southern girl is a girl who knows full and well that she can open a door for herself but prefers for the gentleman to do it because it demonstrates a sense of respect. After all, every girl wants to be treated like a princess. We know how to make sweet tea and grits while telling you everything about any football team in the SEC. We pick our battles and fight with the heart of a pit bull while still maintaining grace and elegance. Our mystique is that of a soft-spoken, mild-mannered southern bell who could direct an army, loves her momma and will always be daddy's little girl.” - Unknown.
Thanks for the visit Melanie!


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