A Smile That Makes Your Heart Melt!

IMG_1242The first thing you notice when meeting Alan Yokiel is his wide smile and his infectious laugh. Considering all he has been through in his life, his attitude reflects a life of happiness and contentment. Much of that attitude can be attributed to his mother, Sally Yokiel, who has traveled the road with Alan and his disability.

Alan Yokiel was born during a blizzard on January 13, 1993. He was a healthy baby until he was two years old. At that time his family noticed that he was having balance issues. When he walked he would stagger and his eyes would move around. He could see, but when he turned his head, his eyes wouldn’t go with his head. “It would almost look like he was drunk. At least, that is the way I described it to the doctor.” Sally explained.

The symptoms progressed and Alan started falling down. His speech didn’t develop. According to his mother, “He would start saying words, but it was hard for him. He would communicate by pointing and grunting.”

At first the doctors thought Alan might have cerebral palsy, but he tested negative for that. At the age of three he was tested for every syndrome and disease that the doctors thought matched his symptoms. He visited doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. After spinal taps, MRI’s of the brain, blood work and all sorts of genetic testing, the only thing doctors could find was that Alan had high cholesterol. The medical doctors were not able to come up a diagnosis so they called it Ataxia, which was a description of his movements. There was not a diagnosis of a definite disease.

When Alan reached third grade his neurologist from the cities wanted to test his blood for a certain antibody. Alan had symptoms of this certain antibody. A doctor in Rochester was studying a group of people with Alan’s symptoms. All these people had one thing in common, they had gone through chemotherapy and after the chemotherapy their bodies started producing a particular antigen and they were losing their physical abilities to walk, talk and were having balance and coordination issues. Alan had never had cancer or leukemia, but it was found that he had these same antibodies.

The next step was to send Alan to an immunologist. The thought was that this gene was causing damage to his nervous system. At this point in time Alan couldn’t sit up in a chair and needed total support. Sally interjected, “If you put him on a bench, he’d fall off of it. This was probably the lowest point of his disability.”

The neurologist suggested that to treat his problems with this gene, they would wipe out the immune system with drugs that would kill this antibody. His body wouldn’t have the antibody that was destroying his nervous system. At that time, though they still did not have an official name, they started calling it an autoimmune disease. The doctors also could find anyone else that had the same thing. Sally stated, “He was one of a kind.”

The doctors gave Alan massive IV doses of prednisone and steroids to wipe out his immune system. Since he didn’t have an immune system he couldn’t go to school for three months, until he got his IVIG, (Intravenous, Immunoglobulin, Globulin) Therapy. The therapy is a blood product that is an immune system from donors. It is very expensive because it comes from a pool of 1000 people. One person would not have enough to donate. It also comes from a pool of blood types and this blood needs to be tested to make sure it is healthy and is not infected with hepititus or aids. Alan received this therapy every three weeks at first, but now is receiving it every four weeks. That is about the shelf life of his body. This therapy keeps his immune system healthy; otherwise if he were to get even a simple cold, it could be fatal for him.

Sally stated, “There are lots of kids born with immune deficiency and many adults are finding out that they too have immune deficiency disease. Alan has an induced drug immune deficiency because of the treatment he received when he was nine years old. He now, along with his IVIG Therapy, takes medication that keeps his immune system depressed and in turn keeps the antibody suppressed. The doctors will keep him on this until they find something better. He has healed a lot and is getting better.”

A disability like this has effects on everyone in the family. Alan’s dad, Chuck, spends time away from the family because of his work. The Yokiel family also consists of Molly who is now 23. “Molly had to grow up fast. She is very healthy. She was my best babysitter and Alan’s disability affected her a lot. She got to donormal teenage things, but much of my time was taken up caring for Alan.” Sally explained.

There is no explanation for what caused Alan’s disability. His immunologist thought perhaps his first MMR shot, which he received right before he developed symptoms, might be the cause but there is no sure proof. There might have been something in Alan’s system that reacted to the shot. “That opens a can of worms,” Sally said, “There are those that agree and those that don’t. All we know is that they said it is a possibility.”

On January 13, 2014, Alan celebrated his 21st birthday with his family at a local establishment. Alan had his first beer. He gave a mischievous smile, “I liked it.” His mom laughed and said it was his first taste of beer. Alan also works at Cedar Valley Services in Albert Lea doing piece work and packaging for Walmart, Sam’s Club and Hormel. Alan stated “I have some nice friends. I like being there.”

Those that take the time to look behind the disability might be surprised to know that Alan is proficient at video games. They improve his eye and hand coordination. He can write and read anything, he can tell time and knows the calendar and can do many things the rest of the population can do. He has global delays. He is very good at some things and struggles with other tasks.

“I love Superman and I am a Minnesota Wild Fan. I am their #1 Fan.” Alan stated. In December one of his PCA’s (Personal Care Attendants), took him to a hockey game. “We won.” Alan said with laughter. Alan also likes Nascar. When he was younger and his outcome was unsure, Make A Wish sent him to a Nascar race and he got to meet Jeff Gordon. Since then he has been a fan and been to many races.

Watching mom and son you can see there is a deep bond between them. “He can read my mind. Sometimes it’s scary.” Sally said.

Allan added, “I know who she is talking to on the phone without her telling me.”

Now the Yokiels are concentrating on the future. Moving to a bigger home a few years ago made it easier for Alan to get around in his wheel chair. They also are making preparations for what would happen when his parents no longer can take care of him. The family has hired two personal care attendents that help with his physical therapy and can also stay with Alan so Sally can have some much needed time to herself. These personal care attendants have become good friends to the Yokiels.

There are times people do not know how to react to people with disabilities. Alan and Sally would like others to know when meeting someone with any disability. “Always assume they are just like you. Always address that person like they are anyone else. Do not ignore them. Never assume a handicapped person can’t talk or understand. It’s ok for you to say, “Could you please repeat that again. I don’t understand you.” It’s ok to not understand that person. In Alan’s case, he knows he has a speech problem. It is ok to tell them you don’t understand.” Sally advised.

Allen added, “Yes, people talk very loud. I can hear.” As Alan added that he still had a smile on his face.

The road has been long for the Yokiels, but perhaps Sally’s final statement shows her gratitude. “There is a bad side, but a very good side to everything that has happened. It has opened my world to awareness. I worked for twelve years with special education and never in a million years would I have done that without Alan. It opened up an entire world that I love. All kids have needs and are very special. I don’t like labels. I had a doctor say that he didn’t like labels either because those labels stick and as kids grow and get older and they change, that label is still there. If I had any advice to give anyone it would be to stand up for your child. You know in your heart what your child can do. Don’t accept the first diagnosis. Research and talk to people. Learn from other parents. They are not textbook learners. They learn from experience of what their kids did.”

There is a quote by Paramahansa Yogananda and it says; Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.

If you meet Alan Yokiel you will see a smile that does exactly that.

He’s A Renaissance Man!

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Larry Hodgson announced to his mother at the age of seven that he was going to be a glass blower when he grew up. Hodgson and his mother had visited Gatorland in Florida where they lived. He had watched a glass blower and had asked him, what Hodgson describes as hundreds of questions in the twenty minutes he watched.” He answered every one of them. I was so fascinated.”

His mother didn’t take his statement too seriously and according to Hodgson replied, “Yah and an astronaut and a firemen and a ballplayer. Sure you are.”

Hodgson started his career as an artist doing reverse paintings on glass. He met what is now his ex-wife at an art show and she was a glass blower. “I married into it.”

He worked with her for a few years and learned the basics, learning what you can and can’t do. “I learned the types of tools to use. Glass is pretty sensitive to what they call thermal shock. If you get things too hot, too quick it will crack. If you get things too big and you don’t keep them warm while you are working on them, they will crack. The glass we use is pyrex and it is pretty versatile. It can take pretty extreme temperature changes for the most part, so we can get away with a lot and that is why you can put that same glass in the oven and microwave and it won’t crack on you.”

After a time his ex-wife felt he was ready to tackle glass blowing on his own. “When I worked with her I was doing most of the grunt work for the first three years, doing the golding, painting the finish work, that type of stuff. It just got to the point where I was giving her technical advice while she was working she stated ‘You got it figured out, start making stuff.’ I gained a respect again because sitting down and doing it made me realize it only looks simple because you know what you are doing.”

The first piece Hodgson made was a little alien guy throwing a football. He explained the why of a little alien guy. “It didn’t come out looking anything like I was trying and it didn’t last the afternoon. It was riddled with flaws and it ended up breaking because there was so much stress in it. It made me want to understand it more because I knew I could sculpt it, but unless you do things proper through heating things the right way, they are not going to stay together. Mastering the art of glass work is a discipline you are always working on because the quicker you get with something, the less heat you are giving it, even a design you made 100 times. The quicker you do it, the more chances there are for failure.”

Hodgson and his ex-wife traveled to Minnesota from Florida every year for the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee. It got to the point that they couldn’t keep up with the demand during the week and they didn’t have a facility to make more during the fair. They settled in Minnesota Lake, as it was close enough to the fair that they could drive home and work during the week. Their studio had a storefront, but was more of a working studio. It didn’t have set hours for the public, but the locals knew if the lights were on, Renaissance Glass, the name of his business, was open.

In recent years Hodgson made the move to Wells and married Wells resident Diane Sonnek. He has moved his studio to the Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea and has set business hours. “When you are at home and look around all the things that need to be done, it is too easy to take the afternoon off. When at my studio, I am here and when I am not working that torch, I go crazy. It is a good motivator to keep me working.” Glass blowing is Hodgson’s full time career and he has spent 23 years at the Renaissance Festival and plans to continue that venue for many years into the future.

Hodgson explained his type of glasswork. “In a nutshell what I am doing here is actually referred to as glass lampwork.” Glass lampwork is a branch of glass blowing that gets the name from practices from days gone by. “In the old days they used to use an oil lamp. That was the heat source and they used to use a bellows to blow air over that flame to make it hot enough to melt the glass. People think with glass it’s always the big furnaces. We don’t use the big furnaces. We are heating up rods of glass with a torch. You can bend them and twist them into the figures.”

Most of the patterns from Hodgson’s glass creations come from his head by looking at pictures or designing his own. He described some of the challenges he has met in his work. “I like some pieces because of their end result. It looks super nice. I like other pieces because of the challenge and I also dislike those pieces for the same challenge. We had a carnival come through town in Minnesota Lake a few years back. They wanted something for the owner of the carnival. It was the 30th anniversary and this owner started out the shows with the Scrambler. They commissioned me to make a blown glass carnival ride. I’m thinking that’s a bunch of poles. I can measure them and make it happen. They let me climb all over the scrambler and I took a bunch of pictures for reference. I ended up making a blown glass scrambler that was pole for pole, a scaled replica of the Scrambler that they had been dragging around since the 50’s. This thing when it was finished was 28 inches across and 12 and ½ pounds. I gave myself a week to work on it, which I never do. I never do a week on a single piece. Seven days later I was still working on it. I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I bit off more than I can chew, never again.’ At the end of it, what I ended up with, was this giant blown glass Scrambler that I was really proud of, but I would never want to tackle it again.”

Hodgson’s studio has small, miniature pieces of glass made into animals, creatures and other delicate creations including necklaces and earrings. He challenges his customers to take a close look at the structure of the delicate glass pieces. If you look real close at blown glass you will notice most of the animals are just a teardrop. A teardrop of glass for the main body and then you add four legs. The tail dictates what the animal is. You must design so you always can hold on to that piece, still add detail to it and then usually any of that detail is brought out in the finish work when it is colder. Paint or gold is added and different things that bring the details to the surface.” Larger glass oil lamps with various blown glass figures also decorate the tables and walls of his store.

Hodgson uses very limited color glass as it is more expensive and a lot more temperamental to work with. The gold is put on when it is finished, then the gold is a liquid and painted on by hand. “The nice thing about the gold when you see a piece that has the gold you will know that it has been annealed” Anneal is a heat treatment that alters a material to deform under tension and stress and make it more workable. When the gold has to be fired on and it fires on at the same temperature that the glass anneals in, you know the glass has an extra process to help strengthen it.

Twenty years ago when Hodgson started in the business an 11 gram bottle of gold cost about $100. He had to call for the price, now that same bottle is over $400. Most of the glass he uses is from a company out of Colorado. It is all different size rods. There is a difference in companies and qualities and for some it is just the length of it.

Pyrex is a brand name. It is what Corning puts out and it’s actually a brand name for what is called borosilicate glass. When Hodgson started and pennies were tight, he would shop thrift stores and buy Pyrex baking dishes for pennies. The Pyrex would be put in a paper bag and busted up with a hammer. Then Hodgson would physically make rods with his torch. He explained, “In the early days, that worked great for the spun glass because you didn’t need the same kind of clarity for a solid piece. A person could get by, by doing that, but it is so much easier working with a clean polished rod that comes from a factory. If a person had to put gas in a bus to get down the road, this worked for a few extra dollars.”

There are not many people that make the statement that Larry Hodgson does about his career. “Is it the best job in the world? Absolutely! I lose such track of time working on the torch, that my wife Diane has to pull me back in. I need to say we are a perfect match. The way she plays with the children at the Renaissance Fair, my wife Diane is equally talented. they come back to see her. They ask for her. She does sales and she keeps everything easy going out there and makes sure everyone is having some fun. She has got the memory. She can remember the name of someone and the face, whereas I can’t even remember where they are from.

She can give me that little jab and tell me that is the person that got the little unicorn with the blue mane last year. We sold 300 unicorns and she can remember that. So I ask the customer. “How are you liking that unicorn?”

The Renaissance Festival is what Renaissance Glass prepares for all year long and you can understand the passion he feels for the festival when he describes his experiences with his customers that frequent his shop at the fair. “The Renaissance is a big deal for us. We work all year long to have inventory. It’s been going on now for over 40 years and people still come out to support that show in costume and raring to get that turkey leg and souvenir. It’s a different customer than what we get in the mall. I absolutely love it. It is nothing but fun. When I am not doing sales I am out hawking for the booth. You can stand out there and make fun of people, make fun of their clothes, make fun of their baldness, whatever, and they still come in the shop. I am out there with my little wooden sword and I have a five year old or a seven year old and they are going to defend their mom’s honor.”

“Everything can be fixed or repaired. Most people don’t realize that. Between kids, cats, gravity, save the pieces. Super glue doesn’t work, it says it does. What that means is that it will stick your fingers to it.

“If you have the opportunity to pursue your dream, pursue your dream. NO one’s going to be happy working in a job that they are not happy with.”

You can find Renaissance Glass at the Renaissance Fair or in the Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

What You Don’t See During a Television Sports Broadcast.

imageWe live in an ever expanding world because of technology. Occasionally it is good for all generations to reach out of our rural area and look beyond what is offered in small communities for jobs and to make connections with people whose experiences are much different than ours in the rural community. Doing this occasionally offers us insight, energizes us and gives us new understanding of what is available for the younger generation leaving the rural area.

Watching sports on television is a pastime for many people on a daily basis. It is easy to sit back in our recliners and cheer on our favorite teams. We see and hear the announcers, we watch and listen to the players without a second thought as to what it takes to produce a live game. Many people behind the scenes work hard day in and day out to see that our viewing pleasure is not disrupted by glitches. Timya Owen is one of those people.

Timya Owen, lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and works as a stage manager for broadcast sports productions. This is how Owen describes her job, “My job is to facilitate communications between the producer and the broadcast booth or studio. We make sure everything is in place for the broadcast, keep the talent informed and supply them copy to read as needed. We are often called upon to run camera, adjust lighting, troubleshoot audio issues, etc. We also wrangle players for interviews and guests who might be scheduled on the set. “
Owen has been working in this field for approximately 15 years. She was working at the local PBS station in St. Paul when Minnesota got the NHL Franchise (the Minnesota Wild) and there was a need for crew to cover coinciding broadcasts. Because Owen loved sports, someone suggested she apply when there was an opening. “It was a natural fit and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Owen is an independent contractor. There are several crewers in the area who have lists of names that call when an event requires a broadcast crew. I also get direct calls from ESPN, Big Ten Network, CBS, NBC, etc. when they need someone. Once you’re on the list, you just have to wait for the calls.”

Television viewers see a little of what goes on behind the scenes to get a game on the air. Owen expanded on that during her interview. “Viewers would be amazed at what goes into a broadcast. Some are fairly simple, but there are events that require multiple trucks and dozens of crew, several days to set up cameras and audio. In the trucks, you have producers, directors, audio guys, video tape replay guys … they are the unsung heroes. Those replays and roll-outs of highlights, all done on the fly while trying to capture a game that is still happening. I’m amazed by them. Out in the arena or stadium, there are camera guys, utilities, more audio people, sometimes makeup artists, talent, statisticians, and of course, the stage managers. Multiply it by two, because usually there’s a full crew for home and visiting teams. Add another crew if the event is also being broadcast nationally (ESPN or any national broadcaster). I haven’t even started on the in-house crew which puts the show and the crowd on the jumbotron for the folks in the stands.”
Owens hours vary from weekends to evenings. When asked about glitches that the viewer’s sometimes see or don’t see, she laughs, “Hah! Most glitches you will see or hear at home. But things only we know about….talent taking a tad too long in the restroom during a commercial break, monitors failing so that talent are describing a replay they can’t actually see, guests not showing up for interviews. I have one announcer who gets goosed by a player at every game. No names…. Lol.
Timya Owen grew up as an Air Force brat and lived all over the world, Florida, Morocco, California, Texas, Cape Cod and ended up in Minnesota. Besides her love of sports, Owen is also a writer and interested in Native American History.

She is currently working on a Cozy Mystery Series called The Fernbridge Mysteries. The mysteries take place in the Victorian Village of Ferndale in Northern California. “At this point, I’m leaning towards self-publishing, but I would love to have Cozy Cat Press accept my cozy mystery.”
When asked about her interest in Native American History she explained what sparked that interest, “I’ve been interested in native rights since the 80’s. I was active with the American Indian Movement for years through their AIM Patrol. We would patrol troubled neighborhoods in South Minneapolis in the evenings, provide security for community events, etc. I met my husband (who is Dakota from a small reservation near Red Wing) at a traditional pow wow when his dad invited us into their home for a meal. We half joke that his dad knew we were meant to be together.”
Owen offers a little advice to younger people thinking about getting into the technical part of the sports broadcast business.
“It’s really just common sense and intuition. You have to stay focused and listen to constant chatter on headsets while trying to keep your talent happy and informed. Being a people person helps, but you need to know when to back off. Every broadcast team is different. Some guys can joke around right up until air time and others need to be left alone to study game notes and player profiles. Don’t be affected by celebrity. That’s a tough one for me because I have many sports heroes.”
“Be willing to start at the bottom. Take whatever work you can get and work hard. You’ll be noticed and recommended for future jobs because the crew will know you can be counted on. Watch, listen, ask questions and be the first to admit if you don’t know how to do something. Our guys are great and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge.”
Think of Timya Owen the next time you turn on your television or computer and watch network sports. Imagine all that is going on in the background to bring you the best for your viewing pleasure. Sit back in your chair, root for your team and know that the production crew has got it covered.

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