Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.
I have been incredibly blessed to come from a godly family. This article was written about my grandparents and will be featured in a upcoming magazine. What a testimony they are. I pray that my grandchildren will be as blessed by me as I have been by John and Mary Lou Shook!!!
The Rascal: 82 years old, still in rehab
John Shook’s life has been a little unconventional. “He was a little bit of a rascal,” teases his wife, Mary Lou.
About a year and a half after John and Mary Lou started going together in high school, she told her pastor, “This boy needs to be prayed for, because I think I’m going to marry him.”
Sure enough, they married a few years later (in 1948) in Cleveland, Ohio, their home town. Within a decade, they had seven children; clearly, parenthood suited them. A good thing, because their large family would become much larger.
Still in rehab at age 82
John Shook, now of Kissimmee, FL, turned 82 on May 20. He still goes to pulmonary rehabilitation classes twice a week. Perhaps that helps explain why he was the oldest Alpha attending the Alpha-1 Association natural conference in Orlando in June.
Shook has been part of the twice-a-week pulmonary rehabilitation classes at Florida Hospital Celebration since 2002.
A staff respiratory therapist, Patricia Ross, decided to use the harmonica as a tool for pulmonary therapy after reading about the idea. Playing the harmonica strengthens the diaphragm muscles and helps with breath control.
The group called themselves the Harmonicats, after the pop music group from the 1940s. They breathed better, learned to play, and did local public performances. Shook is convinced harmonica playing is great therapy.
“I’ve seen folks wheeled in on a wheelchair. Then after they practiced, they would be able to walk on a treadmill for 15 minutes,” he says.
It’s All in the Family
The Shooks lived a fairly typical family life for nearly 20 years. John made his living as a firefighter, and Mary Lou was a stay-at-home mom raising their big brood. But like all families, they were not immune from tragedy.
In 1958, after years of an abusive marriage, Mary Lou’s sister committed suicide, leaving behind six children. The children lived next door to the Shooks, but their father forbade any contact. Even so, the children would sometimes sneak over to their aunt and uncle’s house.
“The kids would come over and ask for bread,” says Mary Lou. “They’d come over and say ‘We were going to have potatoes, but we’re down to the last one. Can we have some potatoes?’”
In 1965, seven years after the death of their mother, the father was jailed. The local authorities tried to find an appropriate home for the children, but the family was large, the county low on funds. They approached Shook to discuss the problem.
Mary Lou vividly remembers John’s response:
“He said, ‘Oh, bring them on, they’re family. We’ll take them.’ Let me tell you, my organized life became a little scattered!”
That added six children to the nine the Shooks already had – two still in diapers. (And they had two more children later. That made 17.)
How did they handle dinner time?
“We used a ping pong table,” says Mary Lou. “It was big enough for all of us to eat at once. It was important to sit down as a family. After dinner was family worship time. We read some scripture, or at least learned about everybody’s concerns, so we could pray for them.”
Perhaps the huge family was exactly the large support system John Shook needed to get through the obstacles life held for him.
He says smoke is not the only hazard to a firefighter’s lungs. “Fighting fires, I inhaled a lot of noxious chemicals and fumes, too. Great stuff for an Alpha!”
He paid the price. At 48, he was a fire brigade captain, but his lungs were severely damaged. He had to apply for a partial disability payment. It wasn’t enough to sustain his family, so he went to work part-time with the county engineers.
That same winter of 1976, he developed pneumonia that seemed to last forever. This began a long series of visits to lung specialists. One of them told Shook he had five years to live (and he hadn’t even been diagnosed with Alpha-1 yet).
Work, prayer, and miracles
The disability check and the part-time job brought in just $300 a month. The girls got babysitting jobs; the boys delivered a paper route. And everybody knew the Shooks. Church and charitable agencies came by often with donations of clothing and other supplies. Somehow, the family got by.
One winter, the Shooks had to deliver disheartening news to their oldest four children. Two were freshmen in college, two were sophomores. The family was $1,000 short of the money they needed to pay the school tab. John and Mary Lou prayed for a month.
The day he was about to cancel his four children’s education for the coming semester, Shook received a phone call. A family from their church had a relative pass away and leave them $1,000. The family donated their windfall to the Shooks.
“We hung up the phone and cried a little bit,” says Mary Lou.
In the late 1970s, a nuclear plant was being built in Perry, Ohio. Shook became the plant fire chief, training the staff – but no firefighting. And he got three paid months off in winter, allowing the Shooks to travel to Florida for warmer weather.
During one of those Florida trips, a lung infection sent John to a hospital emergency room. The ER lung specialist tested him for Alpha-1 – and that’s how he finally got properly diagnosed.
With the kids out of the nest, the Shooks moved to Kissimmee in 1994.
One great sadness came to the Shooks this year. Their daughter Karen died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in the spring.
At 82, John’s health has actually improved a bit. He’s been free of severe lung infections for two years now. He uses a nebulized medication that has reduced his need for other inhalers. He also continues Alpha-1 augmentation therapy – and attends pulmonary rehab twice a week.
The Shooks celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June of 2008. Like all their family gatherings, it was a big event, with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. “I tried to count all our great-grandchildren this year. I got to 76, and gave up because birth announcements and notes about pregnancies kept coming in,” says Mary Lou.
Says their daughter Kay: “The love our family has for our parents is indescribable. I think my siblings would agree. We are so grateful to them for how much they have done for us.”