Family In Need
If you’re reading this paper on the day it comes out, that means it’s Thanksgiving. We’re supposed to be feeling grateful, but this is a tall order for some families. There are money troubles and relationship problems and all sorts of traumas to contend with that might knock gratitude down a few pegs on the list of priorities. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a family more justified in scrapping the whole giving thanks thing this year — or a family less inclined to do so — than the Dietrichs.
Marion and Buzz Dietrich were prominent figures in Cape May, involved with the Corinthian Yacht Club, the Cottagers’ Association and the Chamber of Commerce. They also raised a family here; their son John Dietrich attended Lower Cape May Regional High School before relocating to Maryland. When Buzz and Marion passed away, they left their seaside home to John and his wife Judy, who raised three Cape May-loving children of their own.
Last October, after a pancake breakfast at a local church, John passed away suddenly, at the age of 66. Judy and the couple’s three children, including Johnny Jr, traveled to Florida the following month to recover from the shock and grieve their collective loss. While there, on the day before Thanksgiving, Johnny experienced a pain in his shoulder which he thought he could treat with a dip in the hot tub at the family’s timeshare. Once submerged, Johnny became paralyzed from the neck down, and would have drowned if it weren’t for a passerby who called for help.
“At first, they thought it was a virus,” Judy told us. “He’d had a flu shot six weeks before and in rare instances, this can trigger paralysis. I thought, ‘This is bad, but it’s going to be okay.’ Then, they said it was inflammation of the spinal cord, which is worse.
It wasn’t until a month later, when Johnny was transported home to Maryland, that he was given the correct — and most devastating — diagnosis. “Spinal stroke,” Judy said, “which is very rare, but especially for a 39-year-old, healthy man like Johnny. He didn’t even have blood pressure problems, or anything like that. And the doctors told him he would never walk again.”
Remarkably, Johnny did not retreat into the deep, dark place you’d expect — not even when the realization hit home that he’d now have to be a very different type of father to his two daughters, aged three and seven. “They are the light of his life,” Judy said. “He was a coach for their soccer team, and he can’t do that anymore, but he still goes to their games. He’s amazingly upbeat.”
And Johnny’s ability to stay this way can be attributed to the love of family, friends and community. “His wife Tanya has been by his side every step of the way,” Judy said. “This has made their marriage even stronger, if possible.”
Last June, a miracle happened: Johnny wiggled his own toes. Since then, he has gotten feeling back in his arms, he’s able to turn himself over in bed, and the doctors are saying there is a chance he might walk again.
In the meantime, Johnny is busy supporting his family as a financial planner. Voice-activated software, along with an accommodating employer, have allowed him to return to work. And although the setbacks continue — Johnny’s beloved godmother died from cancer in April, and last week he had to put down his cat of 19 years, who sat by his bedside every day – he continues to be a rock for his family. “Seeing him struggle with everyday things we all take for granted gives me the strength to keep pushing forward,” Judy said. “I’m a worrier, and Johnny keeps telling me, ‘Mom, don’t sweat the small stuff.’ That is so true.”
But the money required to treat Johnny’s condition is far from small stuff, and so, despite the protestations of proud Johnny, the Dietrichs have launched a fundraising campaign. The costs of an electric wheelchair, modified van, twice-weekly therapy sessions, and visiting nurses only scratch the surface. Johnny’s home in Maryland could still use a more accessible bathroom and Judy’s home in Cape May could use adjustments as well (provided the Historic Preservation Committee approves them). “He’s a beach person,” she told us. “He loves Cape May so much; he was married at the pavilion. This past Fourth of July, we couldn’t stay at my house, because there isn’t a handicap ramp yet, but we stayed at the Jetty Motel. Johnny was able to watch the fireworks and see his kids in the pool. It was a pretty special week for us.”
To make a donation and leave a comment — which the entire family will read as a huge “morale booster” — visit youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/love4johnny/98540. “We’re excited to spend Thanksgiving together,” Judy said. “We try to remember that things could always be worse.”
Jim Needs Our Help, Too
We’re sad to follow Johnny’s plight with another traumatic story. Jim Wright, who was well known in Cape May when he managed the Corinthian Yacht Club and later carried out beautiful carpentry work in homes around the area, was recently diagnosed with a stage four cancer called myoepithelial carcinoma. Doctors have told Jim it’s incurable, but he thinks otherwise. We chatted with Jim via Facebook and he was a model of dignity and, better still, optimism.
Jim didn’t know it at the time but his friends were wasting no time in organizing a fundraiser for him and his wife Christa and four children. The couple will be flown from their Michigan home to Cape May the weekend of December 7-8. They will enjoy some fabulous Cape May accommodation and on Sunday, December 8, from noon until 4pm, they will enjoy the fabulous friendships of people who care about them at the Cape May VFW. Whether you were close with Jim or just knew him in passing, come along and support this fine man, who is only in his 40s. Tickets are $20. Or you can contribute to a page set up by his family: www.gofundme.com/5d75uw.
Way To Go, Mayer’s
Thrillist.com, a website for men which spotlights underappreciated food and drink, has named Mayer’s Tavern, a harborfront institution, one of the 33 best dive bars in America. The criteria? According to the story’s intro, these are “places where the drinks are as strong as the parking lot brawls, the prices are as cheap as the chick you made out with in the bathroom, and everything that is good in the world thrives.” Hey, no such thing as bad PR, right? Congrats, Mayer’s!
New Store In Town
You’ve seen the Empanada Mama — aka Brooke Dodds, aka the girl with the red flower in her hair — hawking her delicious empanadas (meat-filled, vegetarian, vegan, sweet, and savory) from a cart at the strawberry, lima, and tomato festivals, the Dragon Boat festival, Oktoberfest, and Cape May Brewing Company. Soon, you’ll be able to find her in a more permanent location, on Park Boulevard.
In the space formerly occupied by Seaside Cheese, Brooke will open her take-out spot around mid-January, with hours from about 10am to 8pm, though details are still being hammered out. The menu will be empanada-heavy, with some additional, equally scrumptious items.
“I’ve always wanted to have a storefront,” she told us. “I’ve just been waiting for the right spot to come around. I’m very excited; I can’t wait to get in there and start working.”
But first, Brooke has to finish relocating herself. “I’m moving off the island so I can afford to have the business on the island!” she said. Best of luck, Brooke!
Cups For A Cause
Lace Silhouettes Lingerie is partnering with Cape May’s Center for Community Arts to present a Holiday Bra Extravaganza: Cups for a Cause. Staff members from both Lace Silhouettes and the Center for Community Arts will be designing, decorating and donating holiday-themed bras that will be on display and for sale at Lace Silhouettes on the Washington Street Mall through January 2, with all proceeds benefitting the Center for Community Arts. The best part? You’re welcome to participate, too.
The only requirement is that your bra be new and family-friendly. “They don’t necessarily have to be practical,” said Lace Silhouettes Assistant Manager/Buyer, Jen Matylewicz. “They can be fun and crazy, too.” You have until December 6 to drop off your mammary masterpiece; the unveiling of all bras will take place the following day at 11am. For more information, call 609-898-7448.
On 11/28, feel guilt-free about the year’s biggest meal with this run, Cape May Fitness’ 11th annual. Begins at 600 Park Boulevard. Registration starts at 8am; race, at 9am. $25, adults; $18, people aged 18 and under. Benefits Brendan Borek High Tides Memorial Fund.
Community Messiah Sing-a-long
On 11/29, this event will be presented at at Cape Island Baptist Church at 7pm. Free. Call Ruth at 609-886-5862.
Holiday Crafts Fair
On 11/29 and 11/30, shop for handmade gifts from 10am to 4pm at Convention Hall. $2. Call 609-884-5404.
On 11/30 at the Ugly Mug, sport a mustache (real or fake), and support men’s health research. Drink specials include $3 doemstics, and $3 Fireball Whiskey shots. Live music. 8pm.
Sixth Annual Jazz Brunch
On 6/1, the Merion Inn will host this event to benefit Animal Outreach of Cape May County. 10:30am-1pm. Purchase tickets ($35) at aocmc.org or at the Adoption Center, 600 Park Blvd, Unit 3. Or call 609-898-1738.
Seventh Annual Hospitality Night
On 12/6, it’s the merriest time of year to experience Lower Township.
On 12/6, turn up at 6:30pm and watch the lights come on at Rotary Park, in the center of downtown Cape May. Call 609-884-9565.
West Cape May Christmas Parade
On 12/7, bring some hot chocolate (or something a little spicier) and a cozy jacket and prepare to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This is one of the very best small-town parades in the northeast; there are 12 marching bands. The parade starts at 5pm on Broadway.
Journey To Bethlehem
On 12/7, for the fifth year in a row, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Villas will be transformed into Bethlehem, the way it was when Jesus was born. Plus, there will be a live turtle nativity. Call 609-886-2414.
Trip To New York City
Visit the Metropolitan Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art with Access to Art. Tickets are $90. Send checks to Access to Art, Inc., 417 E. Pacific Ave., CMCH, NJ 08210. Leaves from Cape May Court House Acme at 8:30am.Call 609-465-3963.
Christmas Bazaar And Luncheon
On 12/7, at the Church of the Advent, at 686 Washington Street, enjoy this old-fashioned bazaar, from 9am to 2pm.
Crafts At Christmas Show
On 12/7, if you’re still looking for that perfect tree-topper, head to Convention Hall from 10am-4pm for for handmade gifts and seasonal decorations and, most importantly, a big, fat dose of Christmas spirit. Call 609-884-9565.
Santa At Convention Hall
On 12/14, visit Santa for free! Games, face painting, toys, snacks. 1-4pm.