WORTHINGTON - It is said that good fences make good neighbors.
For Kathy and Dale Solt, it is more like good neighbors – and friends and acquaintances – making a good fence.
Over the course of several days in September, more than 20 kids and adults joined together to remove stumps, pour cement for posts and install a chain-link fence so that the Solt’s grandson, Zion, can have a safe place to run around and play.
Zion, 4, lives with his grandparents and big sister, Jorgia, and has since he was an infant when his mother, Jerusha, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 40. At the time, Jorgia was 9 and their older sister, Jacie, was 14. The kids and their mom lived in Pennsylvania along with their father, but when Jerusha became ill she and the kids moved back home to have the support of extended family.
It was late February 2013 when Jerusha was diagnosed, and they came back to Minnesota shortly thereafter. Jerusha and baby Zion then went down to the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Tulsa, Okla., taking Kathy with them. Dale’s sister lent a hand with the girls while Kathy was away.
Kathy narrated the story simply.
“I stayed with her down there until they said they wouldn’t be able to do anything more for her,” she said. “And then they flew us home.”
It was late March. For the next month and a half Kathy was Jerusha’s primary care giver, though family members and Compassionate Care also lent a hand. Jerusha passed away on the seventh of May, approximately three months after learning her diagnosis.
Through it all, little Zion was at his mother’s side.
“It was difficult to try to keep a baby happy and settled,” Kathy admitted.
Ever since then, keeping Zion and his sisters happy and settled has been the primary goal of Kathy and Dale’s everyday life - along with the usual commitments, family matters and day-to-day needs that they face as a retired couple. They’re happy to do it, but it’s not always easy in part because Zion - now 4½ - has Down Syndrome.
“Zion loves to be outside,” Kathy explained. “He needs that outlet. But it was hard to let him go outside and not be continually worried for his safety. He’s so fast. He even figured out how to start the truck. And even though we keep the back door locked, he problem-solves and figures out how to get what he wants. He figured out how to get the key by knocking it down with a broom handle.”Help arrives
The issue of Zion’s activity level was the topic of conversation for Kathy one day last summer as she sat outside with Zion at one of Jorgia’s softball games. She was sitting beside Krista Peterson, whose daughter is on the same team, and Kathy expressed a desire to put up a fenced-in area for Zion to be able to play in. A safe place to hold the playground equipment they had. A place where he could run around and not be in danger of running onto the road.
“We were visiting and I said we’d like to be able to put up a fence,” Kathy said. “He’s so fast, and we’re not. Jorgia can catch him, but we can’t.”
Then, at the start of the 2017 softball season, Peterson checked back with Kathy to see if the fence had yet become a reality. It hadn’t. So Peterson decided to do something about it.
“I talked to my church to see if there was money available,” Peterson said. “Jerusha had been the youth minister at Westminster Presbyterian and that was a connection. But it was also a great opportunity for our kids to see that we can help people that they know. Mission trips help people far away, but we can help out right here in our own town.”
Westminster Presbyterian stepped up and agreed to purchase the materials for a fence to surround an area approximately 24 feet by 42 feet.
Kathy is still touched by the donation and caring which was shown.
“Krista sat by me at the same table one day (at a softball game) and said, ‘I think we can get money for a fence if you’ll accept it,’” said Kathy. “She was the instigator of the whole thing. She contacted some other groups to get people to help and made all of the arrangements. It was an answer to a prayer.”
There was a little prep work that had to be done before the site was ready for the fence. First, some trees were cut down to make a larger open space, and Peterson then enlisted Jenkins Tree Service to dig out the stumps. Many people then stepped up to help erect the fence.
Not only were there church members from Westminster, but also people from Jorgia’s traveling softball team and the WGBA (Worthington Girls Basketball Association) team she plays on as well. Sheila Grimmius, Jorgia’s WGBA coach, was thrilled to be a part of the fence team.
“We go to Westminster church,” Grimmius explained. “And Krista asked me, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I think we can.’ Krista contacted Lamperts and they gave us a good deal on the materials.
“The fence was taller than me and I’m 6’3”,” Grimmius added. “It had to be tall so Zion can’t climb over it.”
“We had great people helping,” Peterson shared. “Hans and Mavis Peters were very involved and so were Dan and Darlene Rautenkranz, who provided a meal for everyone working.”
Even the kids got involved both by helping with the fencing when they could and by helping to corral Zion, who enjoyed the whole event immensely.
“The kids took Zion and went on the trampoline,” Grimmius shared. “They enjoyed their time with him, and he enjoyed them. He is so darn cute. He sits at all the basketball games and cheers so hard.”
“Zion brings so much joy to everyone around him,” Peterson concurred. “He just puts a smile on everyone’s face. It was fun to be able to do something for him and to be able to give Dale and Kathy a little peace of mind. We were so glad to be able to help in that way.”Thankful, and blessed
Peace of mind concerning Zion’s safety is something which Kathy and Dale are very thankful for this Thanksgiving. He wears a Project Lifesaver radio transmitter device on his ankle and loves to test the battery every night before bed. Kathy anticipates that the new play area will be a favorite place for Zion for years to come.
She and Dale worry about getting older and what Zion’s future will hold, but knowing that, for now, he’s safe and happy, is a blessing indeed.
“Zion is such a go-getter,” Kathy said. “He’s an early riser and goes from dawn to dusk. It’s not always easy, but God never gives us more than we can handle. Every time, God is faithful and He helps us to keep going.
“We are so thankful for his providing things that are positive for Zion. God is good, and He has proven that to us over and over.”