Losses for the community

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By John Barnhart

    I had a couple of days off at the end of last week, so coming back to work on Monday had more than the usual challenges, such as going through all e-mails that came in to my work e-mail. I also had to figure out if I brought myself to work with me when I left the house, but I finally figured out that I did. A new computer was also installed, so I spent some time making sure that everything was OK and that I could still connect to the file server.
    Once that was done, I started thinking about a couple of losses this area experienced this month. We are going to miss Dave Ballard and Evelyn Kowalchuk.
    Kowalchuk, who was 93, remained active into the last weeks of her life. I was amazed last year when I heard her speak before two different groups. Each time she gave a 15 or 20 minute talk, varied it to be appropriate to the group, and injected humor. They were good, well-organized, talks and the amazing part is this cheerful, 93-year-old lady presented them without notes.
    She was a World War II Army flight nurse, one of a group of young women who lived under spartan conditions and faced real danger in order to make sure that badly wounded young men got back to hospitals in England alive. They rode C-47s, the military cargo plane version of the DC-3, across the English Channel to makeshift landing strips on the Norman beaches where the men had come ashore only three days earlier on D-Day. They kept making these trips day after day in planes that had no Red Cross markings because they carried military cargo on their way in. This meant they would have been fair game to German fighters. They carried wounded soldiers on their return.
    One fascinating aspect about Kowalchuk, and her fellow flight nurses, is that they didn’t have to do that. Kowalchuk could have remained safe and comfortable in civilian life. None of them would have been drafted. Like the other nurses, Kowalchuk was there because she chose to be there. She volunteered to be an Army nurse. Then she volunteered to be a flight nurse. She always pointed out that, when she volunteered for the latter duty, she didn’t fully know what she was getting herself into. But, she did it and did it well. In her later years, Kowalchuk became one of a very small number of women to be named a Chevalier de le Légion d’honneur  by the French for her services in liberating that country 60 years ago.
    Dave Ballard, and his wife, Meg, along with their involvement with the Bedford International Alliance, were a central part of Keep Bedford Beautiful Commission (KBBC) for years. Dave’s involvement was steadily curtailed in his last years as Parkinson’s Disease gradually took him out. As a result of Parkinson’s, Dave did a slow fade.
    The value KBBC brought to the community was an organized effort to make sure the city — soon to be town — remained a clean, attractive place. They recognized city public works employees every year. They recognized people and groups who did projects to make the place look nice, or who have renovated eyesores. They also sponsored annual spring and fall cleanups. These events rallied individuals and groups to go out and pick up a great quantity of trash. The only negative part of this is that the trash was there in the first place. It would be nice if more people had enough consideration of others to not just toss that cigarette butt or wrapper on the ground. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of inconsiderate louts around, so it’s great that KBBC was there to organize others to pick up this stuff.
    Dave, along with his wife, were always in the middle of this program, providing leadership and making sure we got KBBC news releases so that the Bulletin could provide publicity. Dave, who was 82, was also a very nice person. For that matter, so is Meg. I’m glad I got to meet both of them.
    Both Dave Ballard and Evelyn Kowalchuk lived long lives and made the world a better place  by being here.They finally went the way of all flesh, but all of us who met them and knew them were grieved to see them go.