Cassi Juell walked into Orangetheory Fitness in Richland last February planning to workout.
She did. And then she got the surprise of a lifetime.
Coaches and fellow gym members, who’d secretly raised thousands of dollars, surprised Juell at the end of a Saturday class with a brandnew custom prosthetic leg — one that would allow her to better navigate OrangeTheory’s demanding workouts.
The West Richland woman lost her left leg below the knee in a car wreck in 2008.
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When the new prosthetic was unveiled, Juell cried tears of joy.
Her coaches cried. Her gym friends cried.
It was a touching, life-affirming moment — one of dozens of inspiring stories the Tri-City Herald shared in 2018.
For all the troubling, infuriating, frustrating and heartbreaking news you’ve read in these pages in the last year, there also were tales of people overcoming obstacles. Of people using their grief to do good.
Of heroes, big and small.
Here’s a look at some of our favorite stories of Tri-Citians who bounced back, spoke up, showed courage and inspired:
After personal tragedy, this teacher inspires others
Kris Mars went into teaching to honor her late husband and give back to the community that helped her after his death.
And she’s excelled — honored with a Crystal Apple Award as one of the region’s best educators.
Mars teaches at Hawthorne Elementary School in Kennewick.
Her husband, Bob, was a beloved Benton City teacher and coach who was killed in 2004 by two teens he tried to help.
He was known as a fun teacher, and Kris has tried to be one, too.
“I think I’ve gleaned some of that,” she told the Herald. “I’ve dressed up as a 100-year-old woman on the 100th day of school. I’ve dressed up as bacon. I think he really influenced how I am in my classroom — just knowing that it’s OK to make fun of yourself and be silly. Because then the kids let go of their own insecurities.”
A friend’s lifesaving gift
Dawn Johnson and Mary Frances Lembo have been friends for years, bonding over horseback riding and other shared interests.
But in 2018, their bond deepened when Lembo donated a kidney to Johnson, who was suffering from kidney disease.
The transplant happened in June. The women, who both recovered well, recently celebrated their 6-month “kidneyversary.”
“When I woke up after surgery, for the first time ever — and I’ve had lots of surgeries — I went, ‘ahh,’ ” Johnson told the Herald after the transplant. She was relieved to have a new kidney and a second chance after years of illness — all thanks to her friend.
A brother, a sister and a life saved
Davion Campbell and his sister, Kyliyah Davis, were driving home across the cable bridge one night in January when they saw a distressed woman poised to jump into the frigid Columbia River below.
While many other motorists kept going, the siblings stopped and took action.
Davion held onto the woman, talking to her about God’s love until authorities arrived.
In a viral Facebook post, Kennewick police called the siblings “Good Samaritans” who “saved a life tonight and made a positive difference. We are eternally grateful for their brave act.”
Davion said it’s what anyone should do.
“What we need to do as human beings is be someone’s hero, even though we may not feel it,” he told the Herald. “You never know what someone’s going through.”
After unspeakable loss, these families spoke out
Two Tri-Cities families that lost children to suicide shared their stories this past year to raise awareness.
Marvin and Wanda McCollom’s adult daughter, Amy, died by suicide in 2015.
Then a year later, their 16-year-old son, John, also took his own life. He was close to Amy and spiraled after her death.
“(Suicide) is a subject people don’t want to talk about. It needs to be talked about,” Wanda McCollom said.
The Slack family knows that pain. Leo and Tiffany Slack’s 16-year-old son, Gavin, died by suicide in 2016.
“It’s so stigmatized,” Tiffany said. “We need to talk more openly about our own hurts. It’s difficult, but it needs to be done.”
Young people lead the way
In 2018, teens and young adults in the Tri-Cities found their voices in more ways than one.
Some Tri-Cities teens became activists, organizing March for Our Lives protests against school violence.
Others overcame difficult odds to graduate high school — from a girl born in a refugee camp who’s determined to become a teacher, to a boy who found discipline and new purpose through a quasi-military training and mentorship program.
And some young rappers put on a sold-out concert at the Uptown Theatre, while raising more than $1,350 for homeless youth.
Nurses advocate for themselves
Tri-Cities nurses also raised their voices in 2018 about the growing problem of workplace violence in health care.
Ashley Schade, an intensive care nurse at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, shared about a scary incident in which she allegedly was choked by a patient during a shift. Other Kadlec nurses detailed an alleged attack in the emergency room.
Their stories highlighted this disturbing statistic: From 2002 to 2013, the rate of serious violent workplace incidents in health care was more than four times higher than in private industry, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“In fact, health care accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined,” the agency said.
The Washington State Nurses Association is pushing for increased staffing and more training to help address the problem.
“I’m putting this out there to bring awareness of what is happening in hospitals,” Schade wrote in a viral Facebook post that sparked the conversation. “Not just in big cities, but right here.”
Neighbors spring into action after fire
The Bofer Canyon Fire that burned through south Kennewick and Finley in August brought incredible destruction.
It also brought out the best in the Tri-Citians — from the first responders who rushed to the front lines, to the residents in the thick of it who used garden hoses and sprinklers to ward off flames and didn’t hesitate to help their neighbors.
In one touching case, Josh and Cindy Carver — who live outside Pullman but were visiting family in Kennewick — rallied friends to save vintage cars and a motorcycle stored in a shed next to the home where they were staying.
Josh also warned neighbors of the approaching flames and used whatever he could find to fend off the blaze.
He shrugged off praise. It’s “what you hope your neighbors would do (for you) as well,” he told the Herald.
‘She would be very proud’
When Pamela Foucault was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in 2013, she had to travel out of town — and eventually move — to be treated at a specialized clinic. The Tri-Cities didn’t have one.
But three years after her 2015 death, that finally changed — thanks to the husband she left behind.
Dave Foucault returned to the Tri-Cities after losing Pam and lobbied for a local clinic specializing in treatment of the neurodegenerative disease.
In April, his hard work paid off when Kadlec debuted an ALS clinic in partnership with the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle.
“Pam really wanted to see things change,” Dave Foucault told the Herald. “She would be very proud.”
A scientist’s incredible journey
Steve Ghan of Richland hiked 1,500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, from Dunsmuir, Calif., to the Mexico border.
It wasn’t just for fun. The retired Pacific Northwest National Laboratory climate scientist was on a personal mission to gather support for a national policy to prevent climate change.
He wore a hat with “Make Earth Cool Again” as a conversation starter.
He also raised money for the Citizen Climate Lobby.
“Everyone was receptive to the message (that) we could limit climate change without growing government, hurting the economy or restricting freedom,” he told the Herald.
Marine Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman, a Tri-Cities native, died in a military plane crash in Mississippi in 2017.
But his community won’t forget him. In December, the West Richland post office became the Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman Post Office.
“It is our hope that the renamed facility will remind users not only of Dietrich, but of all those who have served under arms and given their all for our nation,” said his parents, Susan and Eric Schmieman of Richland.