Daughter sells wreaths to help dad make one last trip

BRISTOL — Bristol resident and former Marine John Shepard had always hoped to take his daughter Natasha, 13, to visit the North Carolina coast, the territory he loved when he served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1980s.
According to Shepard’s ex-wife and still good friend Marion Martin, a Mineville, N.Y., resident, John and Natasha planned to go this coming November.
But that was before Shepard’s health took a dramatic turn for the worse.
“He won’t make it. He’s fading fast every day,” Martin said.
Shepard, now 49, is one of the thousands of Marines and their family members who until 1987 drank and bathed in polluted water at North Carolina’s Marine base Camp Lejeune for decades. Martin believes that water caused his cancer.
In July 2012 President Obama signed into law the Janey Ensminger Act, in honor of former Marine Jerry Ensminger and his daughter, Janey, who died of cancer at age 9. It authorized medical care to military and family members who lived at Camp Lejeune between 1957 and 1987 and developed conditions linked to the water contamination, including benzene.  
The law applies to up to 750,000 people with 15 specific ailments believed to be linked to the pollution, including cancer of the esophagus — which, according to Martin, afflicts Shepard.
About two years ago, the cancer first appeared in the lymph nodes in his throat, Martin said, not long after he received a questionnaire sent to many former Marines stationed at the base.
Since then, Shepard has undergone a dozen surgeries. But just recently doctors told Shepard and his family there was nothing more they could do, and gave him six months to live; according to Martin his throat and face are paralyzed. 
Now, Natasha and Martin — and many of her employees at her TJL Landscaping company in Mineville — are making and selling wreaths to help raise money to make that trip happen before it’s too late.
It will be expensive, about $4,000, Martin said, because another adult will have to go along to help transport and care for Shepard.
Natasha started making the wreaths herself and going door-to-door in Mineville and Addison, but soon the operation expanded to Martin’s workers, who are volunteering their time.
“Our whole entire crew has been getting together to make them night and day,” said Martin, who may be reached at [email protected].
The door-to-door approach also had its limitations — although Natasha continues to pound the pavement — and Martin said she will deliver them at $25 apiece anywhere in Addison County. As of Monday, the wreaths had raised a little bit more than $700.
The personal sales pitch did have a positive side effect, however. It caught the attention of Addison resident Caetlin Harwood, who worked with Martin to publicize the family’s cause and to create a fundraising website: www.gofundme.com/John-Shepard.
As of Tuesday afternoon, that site had raised almost $1,500 in three days, with a backup plan of buying a small boat in which father and daughter might be able to go fishing in the spring if the trip proves to be impossible for Shepard.
“That was one of his dreams, to take his daughter to the coast … His other dream was to get a little boat to take her fishing,” Martin said. “We’re trying to make at least one of his dreams come true.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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