This has been a very, very tough year for our family. My only grandchild, 8 year old Neva Nowak, was recently diagnosed with leukemia and is undergoing chemotherapy clinical trials at Children's Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Doctors are currently testing me for thyroid cancer and trying to understand why I suddenly developed a very bad case of asthma. Because of Neva's progress in treatment, her oncologist sent a letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Neva was granted her "wish" - to swim with the dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida. My family recently spent the last week with her, watching her swim with her beloved dolphins. It was a very emotional time for all of us as we watched her frail little bottle swim with the employees there. She has lost all of her long, beautiful hair and her skin has taken on a gray cast. After dropping her and her family off at the Orlando Airport, I started the long ride back home to Monticello, fighting back tears all of the way.
As I neared my exit, I saw a State Trooper sitting underneath a bridge in the median strip. Since I was driving slightly under the speed limit, his presence didn't concern me. After passing him by, however, my heart nearly stopped as I looked in my rear view mirror and saw he was stopping ME! I pulled over and pulled out my driver's license, title and proof of insurance. Trooper James Parker, Jr. carefully approached the driver's side and asked me for the documents and then returned to his squad car. This felt like the straw that broke the camel's back and I began to cry. Trooper Parker returned to the car to find me sobbing. He looked stunned and explained that he stopped me for driving at 6pm in the evening without my headlights on! When I turn on my vehicle, all of the dash lights go on automatically. With so many cars on the road and my heart focused on my poor little granddaughter, I never realized that I had not yet turned on my own headlights. I managed to explain my tears to Trooper Parker. He listened quietlly and respectfully. Then he said to me, "Ma'am, I'm going to keep you and your granddaughter in my prayers. All I want to make sure is that you get back home safely." With that, he turned and went back to his squad car.
I cannot tell you how much I appreciated, first, having him point out how I was endangering myself and others by not paying attention to turning my lights on and, second, his kind words at a very emotional time in my life. He could have been cold and formal. He could have been chastising and scolding. Instead, Trooper Parker was professional while also being kind and understanding. People in my own congregation don't even say, "I'll pray for Neva and your family," but here was this stranger extending his faith and support to me. I know God sent him to me to make sure (1.) I didn't create an accident on the highway, and (2.) remind me that prayer and faith is stronger than any diagnosis or doctor's prediction. I will never, never forgot him and I know he doesn't realize what his words meant to me.
My sister, Lori Groen, is a U.S. Postal Inspector in Milwaukee and her brother-in-law has been a Juvenile Investigator there for years. My daughter, Nicole Banos, works for the Collier County Sheriff's Department, her father-in-law, Al Banos, died in the line of duty in Lee County a few years ago, and her husband just graduated from the Police Academy in Lee County and is looking for work down in southwest Florida. I know, therefore, how little appreciation is expressed to law enforcment officers by the public. We are quick to get angry at law enforcement officers who are trying to keep us and others safe and is the only person ready to lay down her or his life for us in horrible situations. I just wanted you to know that I am forever appreciative of Trooper Parker for not only WHAT he did, but HOW he did it. And thank you to FHP for instilling such an attitude of public service in their officers. This is one taxpayer who thinks she is getting every penny out of her public servant!!
Dr. Barbara J. Nowak, LCSW