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FLASHBACK: A holy ice bucket challenge - Odessa American: Opinions

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FLASHBACK: A holy ice bucket challenge

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Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2014 6:30 am

It seemed last week, every day, another prominent person or organization was participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, and by Friday, the ALS Association announced that an unprecedented $62.5 million has been raised to help those affected and their families as well as continue research for a cure.

Otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and often the degeneration causes paralysis and death.

On Friday night, I saw the most poignant ice bucket challenge video yet by Rev. Eric Hungerford, in honor of his grandfather, Rev. Don Hungerford, who died in 2005 after suffering with the disease for almost two years.

If you recognize the name, you should. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Odessa was his church home for more than 20 years. He married countless couples, delivered many sermons and baptized hundreds of children including mine and my sister’s.

Hungerford became the rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in 1966 after serving in parishes in Snyder, Colorado City and Big Spring. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, he attended Berkeley Seminary at Yale in New Haven, graduating in 1954. After being in Odessa for 20 years, he would go on to study at Wycliffe College in Oxford, England, and would go on to serve as the rector of two churches in Australia. Upon his return to Odessa, he would retire from St. John’s in 1989, and that was a sad day for the parishioners here in West Texas. But he kept in contact for years with parishioners from West Texas from his home in Canyon Lake.

There are hundreds if not thousands of Odessans who knew Hungerford. In church, we would get chills when he would come down the aisle, singing in his beautiful, angelic voice.

He was very special to my family. My mother was a devoted member of the church and he was my mentor as the first alter girl of the church and later would perform the weddings for me and my sister Susan, and he would baptise us and our children, something we will always remember.

The Hungerford family first knew something was wrong, when in early 2004, he fell and hurt his shoulder while playing with his granddaughter. It would not heal and finally after a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with ALS and lost the use of his arm., At first he was able to drive some but then his other arm quit working and finally his legs and he was relegated to a wheelchair. But throughout, this awful illness his mind was sharp and his attitude remained one of hope, love and gratitude.

“He would always talk about the illness and in a wild way the blessings that it offered,” his daughter and my dear friend Harriet said.

He could speak and sing, almost to the day he died and on many nights the family would gather with her mother Edie, brother Donnie his wife Michelle, and sisters Elizabeth or Ellen and grandchildren including Eric, and Catie and Annie to pray, hold Mass and sing.

Rev. Eric Hungerford, now the new rector of St.James Episcopal Church in La Grange, who followed in his footsteps, admits to the error in the year of his granfather's death referenced in the video. The poignant video opens with a picture of Eric and his grandfather.

‘This is a picture of me and my ‘Papa,’ the Rev. Donald Hungerford. He was an Episcopal priest and a real inspiration to me. He always had a twinkle in his eye. … I love you, Papa.”

In the video, he challenges several of his colleagues to follow his lead.

Then he goes into the backyard of his home in his vestments, kneels and prays and his wife Shyla and son Ori pour the ice bucket over him.

It was a holy moment — it was as if he’s being baptized by the ice water.

And as Rev. Eric is recovering, Ori picks up a piece of ice and says:

“This is Papa’s…”

Odessa, TX

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