Carl Maxwell leads a life worth living


By Bruce Stambaugh

Given his many maladies and his age, Carl Maxwell, 77, of Berlin, Ohio, would have every right to simply give up on life. Instead, he has done just the opposite, and many people are the beneficiaries.

The list of all the good Maxwell has done in his life far exceeds his list of illnesses. Kidney dialysis three times a week, congestive heart failure, diabetes, quadruple bypass surgery on his heart, suffering four heart attacks, staph infections and skin cancer head the list.

Maxwell hasn’t let any of that stop him. If anything, they serve as incentives to live life to the fullest everyday. He does so personally and through several community organizations for which he volunteers.

“I love life,” Maxwell said. “I want to do everything I possibly can while I can.”

Carl Maxwell by Bruce Stambaugh
Carl Maxwell
Maxwell has and is doing a lot by any measure. His accomplishments would be impressive for someone in excellent health.

Maxwell was a charter member of the East Holmes Lions Club and is a charter member of the newly established Berlin Lions Club. He served as president of the East Holmes club, and was recently presented the prestigious Melvin Jones Fellow award by Lions Club International.

“I’m especially interested in the sight aspect of Lions Club,” Maxwell said. Lions Clubs collect used eyeglasses and distribute them to needy people around the world.

Maxwell has served as either president or vice president of the East Holmes Fire and EMS District board since its inception in 2000. He is the at large member of the five-member board.

Maxwell, along with his wife of 53 years, Lorene, volunteer at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg twice a week.

“On Tuesdays,” Maxwell said, “I cut rages with Paul Roth.” He and Lorene also help out as cashiers on Thursday evenings.

Maxwell has also taught Sunday school at several levels at Berlin Mennonite Church for many years.

“I like people,” Maxwell simply said.

If he did slow down, no one would question his decision. Maxwell goes for kidney dialysis three times a week in Wooster.

“Counting my time on the road,” he said, “each visit takes eight hours.” Maxwell is not complaining about that.

“I didn’t really want to do dialysis,” Maxwell said. “But I got out voted 5-1 on that.” His loving wife and four sons all wanted him to do the treatments. Maxwell drew the line there.

“I had an opportunity for a kidney transplant,” Maxwell said, “but I turned it down.” He said he felt someone younger than him should have a chance at the available kidney. “I couldn’t live with myself if I had taken a kidney that some 20-year old needed,” Maxwell said frankly.

Carl and car by Bruce Stambaugh
Carl Maxwell showed off his salmon and grey 1958 Buick.

Maxwell doesn’t spend all of his time volunteering. He also has some heart-felt hobbies in which he has invested much time and money. Maxwell, who once had 14 antique cars, now has three old cars and a 2002 Corvette, which he calls his “toy.” He occasionally drives it to his dialysis sessions.

At the peak of his car collecting days, Maxwell served for 16 years on the regional board of directors of the Antique Car Collectors of Canton. Maxwell also has the world’s largest collection of Sinclair Oil products and memorabilia, which was featured earlier this year in an international collection magazine. From old gas and oilcans to large advertising signs to refurbished gasoline pumps, Maxwell’s collection is clearly one-of-a-kind. He has gathered items from many states and even other countries.

That extensive collection stems from his life’s work.

Sinclair signs by Bruce Stambaugh
Carl Maxwell has two triple-check Sinclair Oil signs displayed at his barn. He said only a handful remain.

Maxwell worked 36 years for Holmes Oil, which originally distributed Sinclair products. He started as a truck driver, but after six years, he and Maynard Hummel became co-owners of the business. Maxwell sold his half interest in the business after 30 years.

“I have had an unbelievable life,” Maxwell readily shared. He credits two women for those experiences, his wife and his late mother, Edna Weaver Maxwell.

“I owe a lot to others, especially my wife,” he said. “She’s just been amazing.” He said Lorene has been an incredible help to him in his many times of need. Maxwell said he recognizes his physical limits and takes the time to rest so he can continue to keep his busy pace.

“I want to do everything I possibly can,” Maxwell said. “Life is still worth living, and it’s too short to be negative.”

Carl and pumps by Bruce Stambaugh
Carl Maxwell has collected Sinclair Oil signs, cans and even gas pumps.

This article appeared in the July 2, 2012 edition of the Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

One year later, all is well

Biking by Bruce Stambaugh
A year after prostate cancer surgery, I am enjoying regular activities like biking with my family.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A year following my prostate cancer surgery, all is well. It’s hasn’t been a totally uneventful recovery. It certainly could have been worse.

I am extremely glad to be able to say “cancer free.” And yet, I do so with humility, appreciation and the realization that too many people never get to utter those precious words.

Men tend to be pretty squeamish even just thinking about prostate issues, much less talking or writing about them. That’s mainly due to the two unspeakable potential side effects, incontinency and impotency. Because of those two potential consequences, some men unfortunately never return to their doctor once they have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Father and sons by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, my late father, Richard, and I all had prostate cancer.
I wasn’t surprised at all when I received the word that I likely had prostate cancer. My older brother had had robotic prostate cancer surgery 18 months before my own diagnosis. Our father had died of the consequences of prostate cancer after a 17-year battle.

It was this family history and the marked vigilance of my good doctors via annual, then semi-annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing that kept the possibility of having prostate cancer at the forefront of my medical exams. I am forever grateful for that watchfulness.

In the months before and after the surgery to remove my cancerous prostate, I received invaluable advice from friends and strangers alike regarding their personal experiences. I also read and researched as much as I could.

Veggie pizza by Bruce Stambaugh
A healthy diet is essential to good health, especially if you have or had cancer. This homemade veggie pizza is both colorful and healthy to eat.
Months after my surgery, a government sponsored panel recommended that regular PSA tests be discontinued as a way to monitor for prostate cancer. That conclusion was based on what was determined to be an overuse of the test and subsequently a high rate of prostate biopsies.

Without either the PSA tests or the conclusive biopsy, I could only guess today whether I had prostate cancer or not. I exhibited no symptoms. When my PSA steadily rose over the course of nearly two years to beyond the danger threshold, I was given a relatively new medical test, called PCA3, that was 90 percent accurate whether it returned negative or positive.

I remember exactly when and where I was when I received the call that my test was positive. It’s the kind of news that one never forgets, like where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 or December 7, 1941. This was my personal 9/11.

Yet here I am today, alive and well and steadily overcoming the after effects of the surgery. Last November, I had a non-prostate related second surgery that dramatically impeded my recovery. True, left untreated the prostate cancer would not have killed me by now, perhaps never.

Grandchildren by Bruce Stambaugh
This picture was taken just three months after my da Vinci surgery. My wife and I were already traveling with and enjoying the grandchildren.
The biopsy determined that my cancer was the same moderately aggressive type that my brother and father both had. I leaned heavily on my older brother for advice, especially once I decided to move ahead with the robotic surgery, called da Vinci. It’s a surgery that is less invasive, less painful, causes less blood loss, has a quicker recovery than regular radical surgery, and focuses on nerve sparing to lessen the manly issues of being impotent and incontinent. Implanted radioactive seeding or direct radiation were my other options, both with similar long-term side effects that I deemed undesirable.

Through marvelous treatment and care by my doctors, and proper diet and exercise, I have survived. At this point in time, I am ahead of the curve on the two “big” side effects. They are only occasional and manageable inconveniencies. With the cancer out of my body, I don’t ever have to worry about prostate cancer again. No medical test can measure that satisfaction.

I cherish the words “cancer free.” I only wish every cancer victim could say them. Until then, I’ll keep telling my story to whoever will listen. If doing so helps save just one life, it all will have been well worth it no matter what the experts say.

Dewy web by Bruce Stambaugh
Being cancer free, I try to cherish whatever each day brings, even the dew on a spider’s web.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Keep on the sunny side of life no matter what

Sunset rays by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

In this dog eat dog world of ours, it’s easy to get down on others and yourself. I’m much too guilty of that. Just ask my wife.

An email from a friend reminded me of that the other day. My friend, a man 14 years my senior, three decades ago survived a serious illness and now is in a pitched battle against lymphoma.

If anyone had a reason to be down, he did. Yet, he wasn’t. He has had a very successful life, one filled with both professional and personal achievements, most in service to others.

My friend wrote this email in reference to celebrating spring, the newness of life that is bursting forth all around us here in the northern hemisphere. He gratefully reflected on the lovely spring day on which he arrived home after his near brush with death 27 years ago.
Dogwood blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh
He championed the simplest things, a blooming flower, the green grass, a whiff of a refreshing scent, a tender touch of a loved one, and how we all are interconnected to all that is around us. His concluding comment of gratitude was, “And I almost missed this.”

I immediately replied by thanking him for the reminder to celebrate life in the present. We can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future. We can be positive in each and every opportunity in which we find ourselves daily.

Cockeyed optimist or bully pulpit preaching? Perhaps. But consider the alternative, a life of grumpy complaining that dulls everyone’s spirits. What fun is there in that? My friend’s note was looking life right in the eye and saying I’m glad to be here. We were all glad he was, too, and still are for that matter.

When I read that brief message, the song, “Keep on the sunny side of life,” instantly came to mind. Now, I’m no singer, but I like that song for its lyrics and its meaning. Stay positive. Life can be a bummer at times. Hardly anyone could deny that.
Spring Beauties by Bruce Stambaugh
With the temperatures warming, the grass growing, the leaves unfurling, the flowers blooming, some birds already feeding their young, and the ability to be out and about without fear of frostbite, it’s simply great to be alive.

I know times are tough for many, especially financially. There is too much illness in the world, too much injustice, too many wars, too much hatred. Yet, we are alive, and we can do something about all that if we put our mind and energy to whatever productive cause we support to help counter those woes.

I need to take on the spirit of my friend. Live life fully, completely, honestly, purely, truly, compassionately, thankfully. To do otherwise is a simple waste of the precious time we have left on this earth.
Workhorses by Bruce Stambaugh
A long time ago a lady called a school superintendent’s office. It was a miserable, cold and rainy day, and the woman was notorious for complaining. The superintendent took the call anyhow. He answered cheerfully by saying, “Good morning. It’s a beautiful day to be alive, isn’t it?”

When the lady recoiled at the positive greeting and asked how the school official could be so upbeat, he simply replied, “It sure beats the alternative.”

Yes, it does. I hope you can keep on the sunny side of life today, even if you are in the midst of a personal storm.
Wildflowers by Bruce Stambaugh
© 2012 Bruce Stambaugh

A satisfying sense of closure for Mil Agnor

Mil Agnor 1 by Bruce Stambaugh
Mil Agnor with some of the artwork she brought back from Romania.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can see it in her eyes, in her smile and in her body language. Mil Agnor finally has closure.

Earlier this year, the 80-year-old former Millersburg, Ohio resident had her two-year term of service with the Peace Corps in Romania unexpectedly interrupted. After a routine physical exam, she was sent back to the United States for more medical work.

Agnor was diagnosed with bladder cancer, underwent surgery and treatment, and was glad to be up and around and physically well. But something was missing in her life. She had to leave her Peace Corps teaching assignment without saying goodbye to her students, cohorts and friends.

“I didn’t have a chance to say thank you and goodbye,” Agnor said. “I didn’t feel like I had closure.”

The self-assured and talented Agnor was determined to correct that situation. Once she got the medical all clear, Agnor began planning a trip back to Romania. She left Oct. 12 and returned to her new home in Stow Oct. 26 a very satisfied person.

Agnor didn’t make the trip alone. She took along 400 refrigerator magnets that she had made at a print shope in Millersburg. She handed them out to her former students, fellow staff, Peace Corps partners, parents, school and government officials, and even to people she met on the street.

“Romanian’s are very friendly,” Agnor said. “They were very appreciative.”

They should have been. The magnet was a photo of Agnor in front of the school where she taught English in Palanca, Romania. The magnets were inscribed in Romanian with heart-felt thanks from Agnor.

Below the U.S. and Romanian flags was the salutation, “For my dear friends in Palanca and Romania. My greatest thanks to you and your good health.” It was a keepsake anyone there would cherish, especially since Agnor had it made herself and personally handed it out.

That’s not all the generous and compassionate woman did. Teacher that she is, Agnor took along another small gift that created a memorable object lesson for her former students. She gave each student a Lincoln Head penny while sharing this little rhyme: “Find a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.”

She also seized the moment to teach the students about Abraham Lincoln, whose profile is on the coin.

“I told them all about Abe Lincoln, one of our most successful presidents,” Agnor said. “Like my students, he had a humble beginning, was honest, worked hard and loved to learn.”

Ribbon cutting by Bruce Stambaugh
As the honored guest, Mil Agnor assisted the school's principal, Dumitru Cojocaru and Palanca's mayor, Adrien Palistan, in cutting the ribbon to the new science lab.
To Agnor’s great delight, her hosts had a nice surprise for her, too. A dedication was held in her honor for the new science lab that Agnor helped create. She wrote a proposal for the lab, which was approved by Peace Corps officials in Romania and the U.S. The project, which included adding water and electricity in the unused room, totaled $9,300.

The local school raised 35 percent of the amount, 10 percent more than what was required, Agnor said. That amount included $275 collected by the students from selling jewelry and food. The balance was raised through donations to the Peace Corps.

The staff and students hustled to complete the science lab while she was visiting. A special celebration was held, requiring Agnor to stay in Palanca an extra day.

County and local officials and school personnel all acknowledged Agnor’s leadership role in helping to instigate and create the lab. Agnor said she felt honored to receive the recognition.

The biggest hit of the science lab was the smart board, which is basically a large interactive computer screen that allows teachers and students to share in researching and displaying projects. In addition, the monies raised help supply the lab with tables and chairs.

“The project had to be sustainable,” Agnor said. “We had to develop something that will be ongoing in the absence of Americans.” She said the Peace Corps would terminate its services in Romania within two years.

Agnor’s service in Romania is completed, but her dedication to helping there is not.

“I’m going to find a way to continue to work in some nonprofit approach here to help my friends in Romania,” she said. Given her commitment and determination, she will likely be successful at that as well.

Mil Agnor quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
Agnor's students gave her a hand print quilt they made. She was also given the summer wedding vest that she is wearing as a thank you gift.

A big day filled with colorful people and events

Sunrise on 201 by Bruce Stambaugh
Sunrise on CR 201.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Avid birders love to do Big Days. Big Days are when a group of dedicated birders sets a goal of seeing as many bird species as possible in a span of 24 hours.

I had a big day recently, too. My big day was a kaleidoscope of activities, some bright and cheery, others light and muted, and a few dark and fearsome. Knowing that this day’s lively landscape would also be an emotional roller coaster, my faithful wife held my hand all along the adventuresome path.

My shifting pattern of colors didn’t involve any feathers, however. Rather, the palette I experienced involved people and their comparative connectedness to me.

After breakfast, my wife and I headed into Berlin, Ohio considered by default the center of the largest Amish population in the world. I surprised Neva with a brief stop at the local coffee shop for mochas. She got decaf, but I needed some caffeine to get me through the day’s busy agenda.

Slurping our coffee, we headed up the stairs to our financial advisor. He wanted us to make some tweaks in some of our monetary investments. But you can only do so much with a $1.95.

From Ohio’s Amish Country, we were off to my hometown, Canton, to see my urologist for a consultation. The previous week I had had a biopsy for prostate cancer. This meeting alone would have qualified as it’s own big day.

But being the thrifty couple that we are, we packed the day with a purposeful assortment of activities and conversations. My good doctor got right to the point. He spent more than an hour with us, mostly reviewing the several choices for treating my cancer.

While the kindly doctor clearly itemized the wide range of options and their side effects for me, Neva furiously took notes. All the while my head swam. We set a follow-up date for deciding which procedure would be best for me, and we were off to our next encounter.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Neva and I each got a one-hour massage. I could actually feel the tension ooze out of my body, and my mind stopped racing about what I had just heard and anticipating what was to come for me.

I had a brief but important business appointment just down the road. With my mind clearer, the meeting went well.

From there, we delivered some furniture we no longer needed to one of Neva’s cousins, who lived just a few miles away. We made our delivery, visited a little and were off to our next rendezvous, dinner with my older brother and his wife.

The date with Craig and Shirley was well-timed, too. A year and a half earlier, Craig had had prostate surgery similar to what my doctor recommended for me. Over absolutely marvelous entrees, we casually discussed my brother’s procedure and other various maladies that seem to be dominating baby boomer lives more and more.

We skipped dessert, and walked a few hundred steps to our son and daughter-in-law’s lovely New York style loft on the square of Wooster, Ohio of all places. Craig and Shirley, whose youngest daughter lives in New York City, were mightily impressed with the stylish apartment and its accompanying minimalist furnishings.

On the 20-minute drive home, the color wheel of events of my big day flashed before me. So did the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead. But given the loving and colorful characters who surround me, I know all will be well no matter what.

Foggy sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
Life can be a little tangled and foggy sometimes, but the sun still shines.