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Neighbors gather to fight for life

Ray Wolski is fighting a rapidly progressing form of Lou Gehrig’s disease with bravery and grace.

He’s known as a quiet gentleman, a helpful neighbor and a good family man. He’s a former president of the homeowners association in River Woods near Parrish.

Saturday, he may have felt just a little bit like a rock star as 340 turned out for the Walk to Defeat ALS, and helped raise more than $60,000.

Of course the walkers weren’t there just for Ray, but for all those with the little understood and so-far incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

But Ray inspired the event, through his friendship with Angela Massaro-Fain.

The dynamic president of Grapevine Communication pulled out all the stops, and called in every chip to do something to help those with the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

“If I cry, I’m sorry because I get emotional,” Massaro-Fain said, moved by the turnout that filled the parking lot at Magnolia Green Office Building at Lakewood Ranch.

When she began trying to drum up support, she called everyone she could think of who she had ever done a good turn. “If I bought you lunch, dinner or a drink, you owe me,” she said.

Her approach worked.

Clyde Hicks, of Hicks Oil Company in Avon Park, has ALS. He brought a team 70 miles to take part in the walk and raised $12,000 for the cause.

“I think it’s wonderful, and it’s not just because I’m afflicted,” Hicks said of the event.

Rob and Tammy Libera, of Sarasota, came to support Tammy’s aunt, Yvonne Murray, who was recently diagnosed with ALS and did the walk in her wheelchair.

“I am so impressed; I didn’t expect such a large turnout,” said Yvonne, a South African native.

Vicki Paul, of Ellenton, was joined by nieces Shelbi Ericsson, of Bradenton, and Stephanie Weaver, of Indianapolis. Vicki’s mom died from ALS 20 years ago.

All three women were aware that ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the late, great New York Yankee baseball player, has been around for a long time. The disease been known about for 140 years, and Gehrig died from it 70 years ago at age 36.

They all agreed the answer is more funding.

Anita Johnston, a receptionist for Clear Channel Radio, also made the walk, not because she has had it in her family. She just wanted to celebrate life and good health.

When Ray Wolski’s wife, Donna, thanked the walkers and organizers, she made a similar point. “We’re here to celebrate another year,” she said.

And when the walkers started the 2.3 mile walk, the DJ played a song that couldn’t have been more appropriate, The BeeGee’s “Staying Alive.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.