Hometown Holiday Heros 2018
Oct 25, 2018 09:00AM
● By Enjoy Magazine
Hometown Holiday Heros 2018
Becka German - Exeter
For Becka German, moving to Exeter was just a perk of marrying the man of her dreams. Born in Southern California, Becka lived all over the state before she landed in Tulare at age 13, where she remained until after marrying Garrett. He took her on the Exeter mural tour on their first date and told her that he planned to retire in Exeter one day. “It was like a warning—like ‘If you pick me, you pick Exeter,’ kind of thing,” she says with a laugh. They married in 2002 and lived in Tulare until 2006 when they made that dream move to Exeter.
Garrett worked as a financial planner and started his own firm. Becka worked at Tulare Western until she had their first child, Bethany. Over the next several years, they had three more children, Ethan, Wyatt and Karis. And Becka had something else on her heart. “I would occasionally bring up the idea of adopting and Garrett would punt that idea,” Becka says. “His concern was that he couldn’t love a child that wasn’t biologically his.”
And then, Garrett’s opposition to adoption was challenged on Thanksgiving night 2014 when he dreamed of a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl with brown skin. She was little, and he was trying to rescue her. In the morning, he cried as he told Becka about the dream. At that very same time, unbeknownst to the Germans, a little girl by the name of Anna, in a Bulgarian orphanage, was having her picture taken for an adoption website.
Later that afternoon, Garrett began calling adoption agencies. They didn’t have enough bedrooms to satisfy local adoption rules, but Bulgaria had few restrictions. A social worker told them about the website, RainbowKids.com. On Christmas Eve, Garrett’s eyes landed on Anna, with brown skin and brown hair and brown eyes. He began to cry, and they began the process to adopt her that day. Nine months later, the entire family went to pick her up in Bulgaria.
“She was tiny,” Becka says, “malnourished and fragile. She was 4½ years old, but wore a size 12-month clothing. She couldn’t walk. But the children were so excited about their new sister. They fought over who got to play with her.”
Four months later, Becka was perusing RainbowKids.com again and saw a picture of another little girl. She showed it to Garrett, who said, “Let’s go get her!” The next day, the sermon at church was on faith. They waited a week. following Sunday, the sermon was on exhortation. The preacher asked them to stand and said to them, “Keep going, keep going, keep going.”
“We thought, this is crazy,” Becka says, “but we decided to step out and get her.” They brought the fragile girl home eight months later, in September 2016. The little girl’s name was Faith.
Faith was deaf, so Becka and Garrett insisted that their whole family become fluent in sign language. They also wanted to surround their daughter with others who could communicate with her, so they started free sign language classes at the Exeter library and Exeter City Park.
“We all have a yearning to be adopted into God’s family,” Becka says. “There are so many parallels between adoption and the ultimate adoption. It’s powerful because it’s modeled after what God did for us. We made major social adjustments to accommodate our little girls, but we’re on a different trajectory now. Our girls have helped keep our perspective on others rather than ourselves. And Faith’s deafness opened a whole new world to us and we love it.”
Garrett and Becka currently own a car wash in Visalia where all proceeds go to help families adopt through RainbowKids.com. They’ve also donated and raised funds for Exeter City Park to become more accommodating to unique children.
Marty Kouyoumtjian - Porterville
Adversity can be such a motivator. Just ask Marty Kouyoumtjian of Porterville.
Born in Montreal, Canada, Marty moved to East Los Angeles in 1972 when he was a toddler. His parents divorced, and during the summer of his freshman year, Marty and his older brother moved back to Montreal with their dad. While they spent just three months in Montreal, that period of time left a huge impression on him.
“They threw all the kids of all ages in one big French class,” Marty recalls. “I have such vivid memories of that time, playing Bingo in French with Cambodian children.”
What impacted Marty most was meeting his grandparents and his great-grandmother, who had lived through the Armenian genocide of 1915. “Prior to World War I, there were 2 million Armenians in Turkey. Afterward, there were between 350,000 and 400,000,” Marty says. His great-grandmother had been tattooed during the genocide. “Still, she was so faithful to pray. I would catch her praying for us in Armenian, on her knees, in the dark. And my step-grandfather was so kind to me. He would feed me and take care of me without even being able to communicate. All the good I do in my life is because of Jesus, my great-grandmother, and step-grandfather.”
Marty enjoyed playing baseball in high school, but his older brother pushed him to join the wrestling team. “He told me he’d beat me up if I didn’t,” Marty says, laughing. But Marty liked it more than he thought he would. In 1981, he competed in the World Championships and earned a silver medal. He was a two-time junior college Division 2 All American for Rio Hondo and
After college, he began working odd jobs when someone told him that he had a gift with kids. This encouraged him to go back to school, where he majored in P.E. and earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. Even before graduating, he was coaching at a
Moving his family to Porterville in 2005, Marty secured positions teaching special education and coaching at Granite Hills High School. Marty found time to treat one of his wrestling teams to a trip to Morro Bay, where some saw the ocean for the first time. He’s also taken his special education students to baseball games and other outings.
Marty and his wife Tina have three children—Charlotte, Fontaine, and Nico—and when Marty’s daughter, Charlotte, began wrestling, Marty gave up coaching to focus on her. “It’s like fine-tuning for both of us,” he shared. “I didn’t have a lot of credibility with her until she met a kid in Southern California whose coaches were coached by me.”
Don Workman - Kingsburg
There are few people in Kingsburg who haven’t heard the name
Don Workman. At 85, he’s spent several years as a mover and shaker in this sleepy hamlet, with wife Evelyn by his side.
Born in Nebraska in 1932, Don, his two brothers, a sister, and his parents lived on a farm. Don credits that type of upbringing for his desire to serve his community. “It was tough, farm life, but neighbors helped one another—it was a culture of helping,” he says.
Graduating high school in 1951, Don enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He married Evelyn in 1956 and was officially discharged from the Air Force that same year. He then enrolled at Reedley College and went on to USC Pharmacy School, then moved to Kingsburg shortly after graduation in 1963.
He was a part-time pharmacist at Model Drug Store, which he purchased and owned until 1989. While he had the pharmacy, he was involved in the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce, serving on the board and many committees. He chaired the Beautification Committee for many years and spearheaded the process to have the 89 lamp poles installed and painted. “There are lots of givers in this town,” Don says. “It just takes someone to lead the way.”
He was also involved in obtaining the banners downtown in 1990, and he chaired the Architectural Review Committee.
Kingsburg was home to the first California Welcome Center, and Don was also involved in that.
“When you live in a small town, you should be prepared to join groups and volunteer,” Don says. Many of the town’s landmark projects include his fingerprints. He was a Kiwanis member for many years. He painted and maintained the signs north and south of the freeway, helped make the landmark water tower into a coffee pot and cleans Dala Way alley every week with his wife. He also helped restore the old train depot financially, serves on a committee to refurbish the park, raised funds to beautify the corners in town with the city’s help, served on Kingsburg Covenant Church board and more. He was Kingsburg Chamber Citizen of the Year in 1990; Evelyn received that same honor in 2014. The two were honored as Grand Marshals in the Kingsburg Swedish Festival Parade in 2015, and their grandchildren rode with them in the parade.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Evelyn,” Don says fondly. “She pushes me and she’s such a hard worker herself.” The two are happy parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to their three children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
Melinda Conley - Visalia
When it comes to Melinda Conley, the old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” really fits. Melinda was raised in Visalia by parents who loved children. Along with their two biological children, they adopted five more. They were also foster parents to many children over the years and home schooled them all.
“This is in my blood,” Melinda says. “Sure, I would get frustrated when they got into my things when I was growing up, like any sibling, but they were my family. And when one of the foster kids would either go home to their biological parents or to an adoptive family, it was really hard to see them go.”
After graduating from high school, she took child development classes and started a daycare in her parents’ home. Lorrie and Terry had adopted a developmentally disabled girl, Cristel, but both worked outside the home, so Melinda helped with her care.
She later took a job with the county working with severely developmentally disabled kids, but Melinda, then 26, decided to go back to school to get her teaching credential with the hope of working with deaf children. However, that was not to be. Her parents obtained permanent guardianship over two grandchildren whose parents were unable to safely care for them, and much of their care fell to Melinda. They called her Aunt Mindy until the oldest started kindergarten and saw all the children calling their mothers “mom,” and after that, she was just mom. Soon, three of their siblings were also placed in the care of Melinda and her parents. A few years later, two more siblings joined them. “Now we had seven children,” Melinda says. Melinda and her parents adopted the first five children in November
2011, and shortly thereafter, another sibling was brought to the Conleys.
By 2013, Melinda and her parents had adopted eight children, all from the same biological mother, her brother’s ex-wife.
But Melinda’s love for others didn’t stop with her children. She and her mother opened the Sequoia Adult Activity Center in Dinuba — they had incorporated under the name Cristel’s House after her developmentally disabled sister passed away at age 19, and ran this center under that banner — for developmentally delayed and disabled adults who have reached age 22 and are no longer in the system.
“When you have a disabled child, your life revolves around them. When they’re gone, you do something like this.” Melinda, her mother, and a staff member provide all the transportation, activities, and care for their students.
Today, Melinda’s children are 21, 20, 18, 16, 14, 11, 9, and 7. The two oldest no longer live at home, and the oldest is now a mommy herself. She is quick to point out that this was a joint venture — she couldn’t have done it without her parents.
“I love them. I’m blessed to be their mom. It wasn’t planned. I never thought I’d be a single mom, but I’m happy. It’s even better than what I would have planned.”
Joby Jones - Fresno
No one expected an athlete and honor roll student like Joby Jones to join a gang. He had goals, plans to be a professional basketball player, and as the eldest of 12 kids, he wanted to be a good role model for his siblings. That all changed when he was 16.
While walking from his grandmother’s house to his uncle’s home, gunfire erupted from two vehicles driving alongside him, and he was hit eight times. Told that he would never walk again, he fought hard against that prognosis and eventually did walk. But angry, bitter and afraid of it happening again, he sought out protection by joining a gang. This led to years of darkness and despair.
Joby’s original path was not due to a solid home life. “My dad was a rolling stone,” Joby says, “and he was gone when I was very young. My mother remarried, but her husband was not kind to us. We kids sort of raised ourselves.”
He had a younger brother, Eddie, with whom he was very close. “We had gone to prison at the same time, but when we got out, we started going to church together.” Their lives were changing. But one night in 2009, gangbangers shot Eddie in the back of the head twice, and he died. “All I could see was everyone’s pain,” Joby said.
He preached at his brother’s funeral with more than 400 gang members there. And he told them, “I’m done with this.”
“If they see you’re serious, they’ll let you go,” he says. “Other gangs approached me, but I said no and they knew I meant it. If you want to overcome, you can.”
Joby began taking his little cousin to play football on Saturdays. “We played all day,” he says. “I wore him out. He was too tired to go out and get in trouble.” Other kids began asking him to help them, too. “We’d go over to this park and sit down and talk about life. It grew to 15-20 boys each week—sort of a support group.”
Taking these kids to his church, Joby says, “The church was kind of scared. The way they looked—the way I looked—but that’s a misconception. These kids got a heart and families.”
Joby began going into a middle school to mentor kids, and was eventually hired as a counselor. He continues to work there today, meets with them at lunch time, and has Bible study with them.
“I had nobody in my corner,” Joby noted. “Coaches had my back until season was over. Kids are left to the streets. Gangbangers and dope dealers are around these kids 24/7. Remember, it’s who you spend your time with that affects who you become. The gangs become their family. They give them shoes and money. We have to go above and beyond with these kids to change their lives.”
Joby also began working with the local police and started the first gang prevention and intervention program in the area. He was also positioned as a community liaison for Fresno Police Department’s Police Athletic League (PAL).
Jazzmine, Joby’s wife of 11 years, works and goes to school. But they also work together in all of Joby’s ministries and programs. “She’s my better half,” he says. They have nine children, ages 6 to 22.
Together, Joby and Jazzmine started Stop the Violence-Fresno. With his vision and her mad business skills, they have grown it into a force to be reckoned with.
“You can make a difference,” Joby says. “You can help others have a different life.”
Learn more at www.stoptheviolencefresno.com.
Curtis Shurtliff - Clovis
When Curtis Shurtliff was just 2, he climbed out of his crib, found a gun that his father had given his mother for protection, and shot himself in the stomach. Miraculously, the bullet bypassed all the major organs. During his career, he has paid that miracle forward.
Curtis spent four years in the U.S. Navy, earning numerous honors, including the U.S. Military Humanitarian Award for rescuing more than 40 Vietnamese refugees from the South China Sea in a small watercraft that
After leaving the Navy, he became an emergency medical technician and paramedic, then joined the Specialized Trauma and Rescue team (STAR). His paramedic career created new opportunities for him. He lectured at juvenile drug and alcohol programs, published a book and was named EMT-1 of the Year and Paramedic of the Year.
Then he completed the police academy and joined the Fresno Police Department, patrolling some of most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. He won numerous awards, including his first Life Saving Medal, and was promoted to Field Training Officer and trained new police recruits.
In 2005, he went to work for Clovis Police Department. While working patrol, he became the lead advanced instructor for medical training and response to mental illness, also joining the SWAT team and Honor Guard Team. He earned his second Life Saving Medal there, as well as the Medal of Distinction.
In 2010, Curtis married his wife Michele. Their five children, nephew, and niece completed their wedding party. Curtis promoted to detective in the investigation unit, then ascended to corporal, where he educates children and adults about safety, self-defense and making good choices. He volunteers with the BOKS program at Gettysburg Elementary School where he, in police uniform, provides physical fitness courses and teaches healthy eating before school.
As the Clovis Police Homeless Liaison Officer, Curtis is credited with cutting the city’s homeless population in half. He’s been able to help veterans get into programs and obtain housing and work. Curtis was able to help place all mentally ill homeless people in the city of Clovis into care or housing.
In 2016, Curtis was camping at Dinkey Creek with his family when he heard someone yelling for help. Curtis ran down to aid a five-year-old boy who had drowned, beginning CPR. “After 30 minutes of no sign of life, Curtis whispered into the boy’s ear, “If you survive this, I’ll give you my lucky fishing hat.” Gabriel was flown to Valley Children’s Hospital where he completely recovered, and Curtis and Michele presented him with the hat. Curtis received his third Life Saving Medal.
In the past 37 years in uniform, Curtis has seen more than his share of death and destruction. He has suffered a gunshot wound, numerous broken bones, two blown knees, two blown shoulders and has had eight surgeries to keep him alive or put him back together.
“I attribute my drive to stopping people who hurt, injure, or instill fear into our community,” he says. “I have seen or been a part of more than one miracle. I want to pass it forward and never quit.”
Marilyn Meredith - Springville
Marilyn Meredith laughs today when she thinks about what she thought she wanted to be when growing up and what she actually became. “I wanted to be single and an artist. I don’t know why an artist – I can’t draw,” she quips.
Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, circa 1933, Marilyn says she was “writing all the time – short stories, plays for the neighborhood kids to perform and a magazine in junior high school.”
She met a cute sailor for a blind date when she was 17. Hap Meredith, 20 at the time, didn’t have a dime in his pocket, according to Marilyn, but they went to Chinatown on a streetcar and walked around before he walked her home. “Dad asked if he was a Christian, and he said he was a Methodist. Dad said good, and Hap was at our house every weekend after that.”
The couple married two years later. They moved to Washington, DC, for a time, but Marilyn didn’t like it. They moved to Oxnard, had five children, and Marilyn took a job working in a preschool for children with developmental disabilities. This would set the stage for much of what she did later.
The Meredith family moved to Springville in 1981. Marilyn wanted to live on the Tule River, and they found a house for sale that backed up to the river – but it was a residential care home for developmentally disabled women, so the buyer would need to get into the caregiving business.
“We put money down on the house, so I had to get licensed quickly,” Marilyn recalls. She educated herself and ended up teaching those licensing classes for a decade.
Marilyn loved the residents and would bring them into town every week. “I had a great time with them,” she says. “They were like family. They did everything I did. If I hosted a baby shower for someone, they came and helped.” But both Hap and their son Mark were diagnosed with cancer in 2004, and Marilyn had to let “her ladies” go. She was now taking care of her son and husband, and they were her priority. Hap won his battle with cancer, but Mark did not. One of Marilyn’s ladies spoke at his funeral.
Always writing, Marilyn’s first novel, “Trail to Glory,” was released in 1982. She would write when her ladies went to the Sheltered Workshop during the day, all while watching three grandchildren. She taught writing classes and eventually got involved in a writers’ critique group. “It was my social life,” she says. “And I really learned to write well through that group.” Marilyn has written and published some 40 books. She has two series that she adds to regularly—“Rocky Bluff P.D.” and “Deputy Tempe Crabtree Mysteries.” She belongs to several writers’ organizations and speaks all over the country promoting her books.
Marilyn and Hap have rarely lived alone. There’s almost always a grandchild or three living with them. She’s very involved in her church where her son-in-law is the pastor. At 85, she does all this and still teaches Sunday school. “My biggest joy is to be around little kids,” she says.
Marilyn’s books can be purchased at fictionforyou.com.
Matthew Tuttle - Reedley
The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America affected a lot of people in a lot of different ways. For one Reedley man, a new and stronger sense of patriotism resulted, changing the trajectory of his life.
Matthew Tuttle, born and raised in Reedley, was 21 when he watched the Twin Towers fall. “I had to do something,” Matthew says. “My friend was joining the Army, and I decided to join, too. I wanted to protect America from that ever happening again.”
He enlisted in October 2001 to become an Army Combat Medic. “Looking back, I was thinking of my future. Maybe this would be something I would do when I got out.”
Deployed to Iraq in January 2004, he was the only medic assigned to a military police unit in Baghdad—a unit that was attacked at least once a week with improvised explosive devices or rocket-propelled grenades. His job was to get to the injured soldiers, stabilize them and get them to the medical facility.
When some military police from his unit were lost, Matthew was trained on the spot to be a military police. “I’d been working alongside this unit awhile. I was ready.”
Coming home after four years in the military, Matthew was different. “It changed my life. I had matured. It made some things more important to me and others less. I understood integrity and honor so much more.”
A Stars & Stripes reporter used a photo of Matthew and another soldier trying to revive someone who had gotten hit to create a statue for a memorial called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” at Fort Hood. “When I see that statue, it reminds me of what happened that day, when we were losing soldiers. This is a memorial to all the fallen. I’m pretty proud of it.” The names of the fallen soldiers are etched in a granite backdrop to the statue.
After coming home from Iraq, Matthew was a security guard, then a federal law enforcement border patrol officer, but he couldn’t see himself continuing with either. In 2009 he moved back home to Reedley and got a personal trainer certificate. He did some training and also some construction, but in 2013, a Crossfit gym opened in Reedley. He was already a fan of the discipline and began helping the owner while saving money to open his own gym. In 2015, Gnardog Crossfit became a reality.
“I try to provide a safe and supportive fitness facility for our community,” says Matthew, who was named Health Professional of the Year by the Reedley Chamber of Commerce. “I feel like my job here is more like a life coach,” he explained. “I help them change the way they think, how to change a challenge into a positive.”
He’s got paraplegic and quadriplegic people at his gym regularly. He trains them to do as much as possible. He thrives on helping people. He joined with a ministry to help bring gifts to 17 teenage mothers and their children. And his gym hosted a fundraiser for the family of a local firefighter who died battling the Ferguson Fire.
Matthew and his wife, Deandra, have two daughters, Harley and Sophia. Matthew says that his military experience helped strengthen his faith. “Life is good here in Reedley,” he asserted. “I get to work seven days a week and help people.”
We Are Honored to be able to share the stories of just a handful of the many selfless, philanthropic and dedicated individuals who make our communities richer.
Thanks to all who give of themselves to create a better world.