Resident's gift to AL!VE inspired by new beginnings

A business trip to Napa Valley, California, twenty years ago is directly responsible for a new gift to Charlotte.

As president of Jackson Community College, and head of a group studying quality in educational institutions, Lee Howser, accompanied by his wife Norma, traveled to Napa Valley to meet with educational leaders from across the country. During their stay they visited a sculpture garden where a colorful rainbow captivated them, Lee in particular. It reminded him of the many start-overs in his life: 17 schools, a career as a TV personality, a teacher/coach and an educational administrator.

When Lee and Norma retired in 2001, they moved to Charlotte to be close to their daughter, Julie Kimmer, her husband Dan and their grandchildren, Nate and Addison. 

The start-over rainbow never really left Lee. He volunteered at the Hayes Green Beach Wellness Center and later AL!VE. Moreover, AL!VE and the pivotal role it plays in the community always impressed the entire Howser family. They decided to present the community with a precious, personal gift – they arranged for AL!VE to have a rainbow of its own. During the next few weeks the compelling story of that rainbow, named INSPIRE, and its significance will be told through the experiences of people who have started over, and the role AL!VE played in their life-changing transformations. 

Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over she began to fly.

The first story involves Lee’s good friend and heart patient, Mike Ranville. In 2013 Mike received a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD). Following the surgery and a lengthy hospital stay he was weak, barely able to walk from one room to another without pausing to catch his breath. Lee persuaded him to visit AL!VE and to begin walking as a way to regain his strength. He agreed to try. 

Lee walked with him. Their maiden voyage was modest at best; Mike only managed to complete one lap (1/9 of a mile). Within weeks his progress was measured not in laps, but in miles. His doctors marveled at the speed of his recovery. A positive byproduct of Mike’s newly acquired stamina was restoration of quality in his life, specifically the ability to write and play golf. Someone else would have to watch daytime television – Mike had re-entered life.

“I credit AL!VE with restoring value to my life,” Mike says. “Not only was I physically stronger, but mentally I was more alert. Family, reading and writing, God’s greatest gifts, will never again be taken for granted. More importantly, though, my sense of dignity had returned.”

Mike just completed a book with Dr. Michael James that examines heart care through the ages in general, and his case in particular. They take events in Mike’s cardiac history and write about them, each from their separate perspective. It is appropriately titled Years to Life, or Life to Years. Near completion is another book on famous people and events that have graced his life. 

In August 2015, Mike received a heart transplant. After completing four months of cardiac rehabilitation, he joined MOVE, the fitness center at AL!VE. “I have no idea what lies ahead,” he says, “but to borrow from Robert Frost ‘I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.’ With AL!VE as my partner I ain’t gonna’ die in front of a television set.”

Lee believes everyone has a personal rainbow. His escorted him to Charlotte and then to AL!VE. “I know this,” he says, “because rainbows are about new starts and opportunities, and for so many in our community AL!VE is that opportunity. 

“And,” he adds, “It sure does seem there are a lot more caterpillars in our community.”