THEY are inspirational, brave, awe-inspiring and truly humbling. And today The Star salutes the people who, through remarkable courage, dedication and determination, have made 2011 a year to remember. These are The Star’s Christmas Stars.
Our dozen heroes are Ben Parkinson, Bob Dyson, Edward Topley, Tim O’Sullivan, LEE Ferrigon, Mary Smith, Finn Eden, John McCormack, Beryl Welburn, Nicolette Williams, Jim Heppenstall, Gloria Stewart.
Here are their stories:
WHEN Ben Parkinson carries the Olympic torch next summer it should prove to everyone why he deserves to be one of The Star’s Christmas Stars.
The 27-year-old is still battling back from horrific injuries suffered when a landmine exploded under his Land Rover while he was serving with the Royal Horse Artillery in Afghanistan in 2006.
And it’s his never-say-die attitude that has won him so many admirers - even complete strangers who pat his back on the streets and those who send Christmas cards to his home addressed simply ‘Ben Parkinson, Wounded Soldier’.
Despite losing both legs and suffering severe spinal injuries in the blast Ben, from Bessacarr, Doncaster, is determined to walk as far as he can on his prosthetic limbs when he takes on the honour of being a torchbearer for the 2012 London Olympics.
When told he was one of The Star’s Christmas Stars he said: “I am very proud and honoured to be picked.
“I accept it not just for myself but for the people of Doncaster who have helped me so much, and to prove to all those who said I would never walk again that I am able to.”
Ben’s stepfather Andy Dernie, who devotes huge amounts of time to taking him to physiotherapy and functions to which he is invited, added: “This is a chance for us to prove to everyone who wrote him off, including the doctors, they were wrong.”
Mr Dernie said the family was still amazed by the response Ben gets when he is out and about in the region.
“Every other person seems to know Ben and talks to him,” he said. “It’s the sort of support we appreciate so much and it never ceases to amaze us.”
AS ONE of the county’s longest-serving police officers, Bob Dyson is devoted to South Yorkshire.
Quietly spoken, liked by all, he’s been present at some of the most pivotal moments in the county’s policing history, including the Hillsborough Disaster and the Miners’ Strike.
His dream has always been to lead his local police force - and he achieved that when Med Hughes retired.
But rules stipulate officers must have served in at least two forces to become chief constable officially, so he can never take up the post permanently.
Today the 54-year-old said he has relished his time at the top - and feels ‘humbled’ to be hailed a Christmas Star for his service to South Yorkshire over the last 35 years.
“I find it really humbling to be among such worthy people who have overcome such a lot or worked really hard to achieve things,” he said.
“Policing for me has been a passion and what gives me most pleasure is seeing and hearing about the lengths officers and staff go to on a daily basis with acts of bravery to protect the public. There are still lots of positives in policing.”
The dad-of-two, who joined South Yorkshire Police in 1976 as a bobby on the beat in Hackenthorpe, said: “Ever since I was a very small child I said I was going to be a policeman and I still love it now. I have great pride in being chief constable, albeit temporarily.
“I see policing as a vocation, not just a job. It’s something you have to have a passion for and you have to really want to protect people and want to see society act in an ordered way.”
WHEN young Edward Topley saw his friend hit by a car few would have expected him to handle the situation so calmly.
But the 12-year-old defied his tender age to show incredible comradeship, comforting school pal Ben Shepherd at the scene by telling him to ‘have nice thoughts’ while an ambulance arrived.
And, as Ben started his recovery at home, Edward collected £275 from locals so his injured friend could buy a new bike - even negotiating a discount from a local supplier.
Today Edward is hailed a Christmas Star for his inspirational friendship.
“We are very proud of him and it’s lovely he is being recognised,” said mum Andrea Topley, of Dobcroft Road, Millhouses.
“He’ll be extremely excited to see himself in the paper. He’s not forgotten about what happened.”
Edward was 11 and Ben 10 when he was left with broken bones, including two skull fractures, in the collision in Millhouses in March.
Andrea said: “At the time it was incredibly emotional. You think you’re bringing them up right but I think some of the things Edward said to Ben were unbelievable for a child.
“To say ‘think of something nice’ was just lovely.
“Children do all sorts of funny things, they run off if they’re scared. So we’re extremely proud of him, that he stayed with Ben and was so caring afterwards.”
The boys have since gone up to Silverdale School together and remain good pals.
Ben’s mum Jane said: “Thank you Edward for looking after Ben at the time, and being such a supportive friend afterwards.”
FOR nearly 20 years Tim O’Sullivan has swept his street to make it one of the cleanest in Sheffield.
Now 87, the tireless volunteer is known by everyone in Hackenthorpe for the good deeds he carries out every day on Occupation Lane.
Tomorrow will be a rare day of rest for Tim as he spends Christmas Day with family.
But as well as marking the festive season he will also be celebrating being hailed one of The Star’s Christmas Stars.
“It’s right good,” he grinned. “I only do what I do to keep fit because I’m 87.”
While wintry weather has most of the region shivering at home Tim simply wraps up in warm gear and carries on.
Early starts and cold spells are the habit of a lifetime for the former World War Two sergeant, who worked at a prisoner of war camp.
Tim added: “I’ve worked outside all my life. Some time I suppose I’ll stop but at the moment I am a very fit man.
“I don’t drink or smoke, I don’t need any glasses or have a telly. I just have the wireless.”
Retired Tim featured in The Star earlier this year when his good works were highlighted. Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore then invited Tim to visit her for a cup of tea at the Town Hall.
But the Irish-born widower, who moved to Sheffield after the war and worked for the water board in Highfield for 24 years, doesn’t seem to realise he is an inspiration.
“Local people say I’m doing a good job and I’m happy with that,” he said.
LEE Ferrigon is a remarkable man.
Just over a year ago the school worker from the Manor in Sheffield lost his beloved wife Keisha to cancer, aged just 32.
But instead of letting himself become consumed by grief Lee, 35, turned the tragedy into a determination to help others.
In August he made a huge sacrifice, donating a kidney so friend Darren Ferguson could come off dialysis after 30 years of searching for a donor.
Lee told The Star: “When Keisha was ill there was nothing I could do - I just had to watch.
“But in this situation I was able to make a difference for a friend.”
And last month Lee launched the Keisha Ferrigon Foundation, which aims to carry on his wife’s life’s work of helping others.
Keisha worked as lead practitioner for Sheffield Council’s multi-agency support team, providing welfare support in the city’s schools.
A key member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Burngreave, she ran youth outreach projects and health improvement programmes in Sheffield’s most deprived areas.
Lee, who works as an inclusion manager at Meadowhead School, said he was amazed by the reaction he received when The Star told his story for the first time last month.
“I am just a normal man - I don’t feel as though I have done anything special,” he said.
“In today’s society lots of people are going through hard times - whether they are grieving, going through divorce or other problems.
“Keisha taught me a lot about helping other people - I am just trying to carry on her work and celebrate her life.”
FOR 35 years careworker Mary Smith has brightened up the lives of elderly people at Woodbank House Nursing Home.
Now aged 75, the grandmother-of-six still gets up at 5am to catch two buses from her Gleadless home to work in Meersbrook.
“I love my work,” she told The Star. “Everyone here is like family to me. The staff are lovely and the residents are wonderful.”
Mary, who lost her partner of 15 years, Malcolm, last December, will be spending Christmas Day at Woodbank House.
Born in Ireland, Mary came to Britain at the age of 17, working across the country before settling in Sheffield in her twenties.
She trained as a nurse at Nether Edge Hospital, working at the Jessop and Northern General before moving to Woodbank House soon after its foundation in 1976.
Despite personal tragedy - her eldest son Robert, is paralysed, and she has been widowed twice - she always has a smile on her face, bringing cheer to Woodbank House every day.
Mary’s boss, manager Johanna Andrews, said: “Mary’s dedication to residents is incredible.
“When they are in hospital she makes a point of visiting them in her own time and she always bakes something for their birthdays.
“She has that extra touch. Nothing is too much trouble for her and she never complains.
“Even when she was nursing her partner, she would make sure she came in to work.
“She doesn’t see it as a job. If the cook is sick, she will get into the kitchen, she will do anything.
“And despite everything she has been through, she is always smiling.”
CHRISTMAS Day will be a rare rest day for dedicated Finn Eden.
The 13-year-old champion rower will take a day out from training - a short break for the youngster from Scawsby, Doncaster, who has his heart set on a place in the Olympics in the future.
On Boxing Day he will be back on the water, showing the sort of conviction that helped him to deal with the most devastating of personal tragedies.
This year his world was rocked by the killing of his father, Ray - a former Great Britain cyclist who himself missed out on the Olympics only through injury. He died of injuries sustained in an attack by a neighbour, who was later jailed for his manslaughter.
That tragedy has changed how Finn and mum Gail, a nurse at the Montagu Hospital in Mexborough, will celebrate Christmas this year. They will be having lots of relatives round for the festivities - and visiting Ray’s grave at the cemetery.
“It is going to be the first Christmas without him,” said Gail. “At one stage we didn’t know if we were going to put a tree up, but Finn’s dad loved Christmas, so Finn thought a tree would be what his dad would have wanted.
“He wants to do all the things we used to do, with lights outside and the trimmings.”
She said of his sporting ambition: “Finn will be training all the way through Christmas, but taking Christmas Day off.
“Then it will be training all the way through the holidays. He knows it’s what you need to do to get to the top level. He is planning to enter the national championships this year.”
FIVE years ago boxing enthusiast John McCormack came up with the idea to hold a charity bout where fans themselves could step into the ring - and help good causes.
The event has been staged annually ever since, and has become a significant contributor to appeals helping poorly youngsters.
Dad-of-two John, a management consultant from Hunters Bar, enlisted the help of his friend and boxing trainer Glyn Rhodes. Following this year’s show, in the Platinum Suite at Bramall Lane, a total of £27,800 has been raised.
John, aged 55, said: “It’s thanks to Glyn’s help and all the people who took part. Over the five years, 55 people have taken part in the boxing matches, some more than once. The success has been incredible.”
For the first four years, money raised was split between the Neurocare appeal, supporting the brain surgery department at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, and Ella’s Fund, a charity set up by the parents of Charnock youngster Ella Frith, who has battled a brain tumour.
This year, money was donated to another fund set up by the family of nine-year-old Ben O’Brien, from Ecclesfield, who was diagnosed with cancer in January.
His family are collecting money to improve facilities on ward M3 at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
John has participated in fights in the shows himself and is also a keen marathon runner - having overcome a heart condition in the 1980s which forced him to cut out exercise.
Glyn said: “John is inspirational. I take my hat off to him.”
TO watch a child suffer with cancer must be one of the hardest things a parent could go through.
It is something Beryl Welburn, support worker at Sheffield charity PACT or the Parents’ Association of Children With Tumours and Leukaemia, knows well.
Every day Beryl helps families cope with watching loved ones be treated at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
She offers practical support, someone to talk to and, at the PACT house on Western Bank, somewhere to cook a meal or get some rest.
Beryl got involved with PACT when her daughter Laura was diagnosed with leukaemia aged four, in 1991. Laura was one of the lucky ones. After two years of treatment, she was given the all-clear. Next May the whole family will be celebrating when Laura - now 24 and in remission for 18 years - gets married.
Beryl, 48, from Wombwell, Barnsley, has dedicated the last 20 years to helping other parents go through similar experiences.
“I identify with them, because I have been through it myself,” she said. “Our job is to make hard times a little bit easier. It is a real honour to do that.”
Lindsey Thompson, mum of leukaemia sufferer Ellie, nine, said: “There is always one person guaranteed to cheer everybody up at PACT - Beryl.
“She always has a smile on her face and is willing simply to listen when you’re having a rough time, or laugh with you when it’s a good week.
“She goes far beyond the call of duty. She is such a wonderful person who makes such a difference.”
BEREAVED Sheffield mum Nicolette Williams has devoted her life to fundraising since son Christopher Bridge was killed in Afghanistan.
Senior Aircraftsman Bridge was 20 when his vehicle was caught in an explosion.
Nicolette, from Shiregreen, initially raised funds for services charity Help for Heroes, but at the start of last year launched an appeal for a war memorial in Shiregreen Cemetery - the only burial ground in Sheffield without one.
Her son, along with 69 World War Two servicemen, is buried there.
In just 18 months, helped by others including her mother, friends, and fellow bereaved mum Ann Fellows, Nicolette has raised the £35,000 needed for the memorial. It is set to be built next year.
She said: “Whether it was going to take me five years or 20 to raise the money, I was determined to make the memorial a reality - but I never dreamed it would be achieved in 18 months.
“I’m doing it in memory of Christopher and all the other servicemen who have given their lives.”
The memorial, which is to be compass-shaped and made from granite, will be inscribed with the names of Christopher as well as Ann’s son Royal Marine Lance Corporal Jamie Fellows, 26, plus the names of all other fallen servicemen buried at Shiregreen Cemetery.
It is set to be built next year once planning permission has been achieved.
Ann Fellows, a domestic worker at the Northern General Hospital, said: “Nicolette deserves to be praised.”
FOOTBALLER Jim Heppenstall proved to be a real Christmas Star when he saved the life of an opposition player who collapsed and stopped breathing on the pitch during a match.
Northern General Hospital worker Jim, aged 38, was playing for Totley against Brampton in the Premiership division of the Hope Valley League at his team’s home ground on Lamont Road, when a member of the opposition complained of feeling unwell.
The player started walking from the pitch in the 35th minute - then collapsed.
Seconds later he was in convulsions, had stopped breathing and turned blue.
Jim, from Bradway, who works as superintendent radiographer, took over.
He laid the player into the recovery position, reached into his mouth, and pulled his tongue to one side to allow him to breathe.
And, thanks to Jim’s quick thinking, the player involved has since made a full recovery.
Trained first aider Jim, who is married to Katie and has two children, Chloe, four, and Charlotte, 10 months, said of his Christmas Star award: “It’s very unexpected because I believe anyone would have done what I did.
“However I am very proud and flattered to be chosen.
“Since The Star carried the story I have had quite a bit of ribbing from my mates - but quite a lot of people have come up and shaken my hand.”
HEART-of-gold pensioner Gloria Stewart has another name... indisputably, she is Mrs Christmas.
For the fourth year running disabled Gloria, 62, from Ecclesfield, has worked to stage a day of festive cheer for Sheffielders otherwise destined to spend the season in isolation.
Her Home Alone Christmas Lunch has brought happiness to hundreds and is now recognised as a day that underlines the true meaning of festive goodwill.
It was back in 2008 that Gloria had a heartrending encounter with an elderly lady in a hospital waiting room. The lady revealed she had no family and would once again be alone on December 25, sitting in bed with a flask of tea and a packet of biscuits.
Gloria was so dismayed she decided to act. By the following Christmas, despite having been left disabled by a heart attack and two strokes, she had garnered volunteers and donations of everything from turkey to tinsel.
Her first event, for over 80 at a social club in Ecclesfield, was such a success Owlerton Stadium stepped in to offer a bigger venue for an extra 200 the following year.
Owlerton has played host ever since, with transport provided free by City Taxis.
Gloria usually donates money for the lunch which her children give to her as Christmas presents – and this year was cheerfully resigned to digging even deeper into her own pocket when she realised that, due to the recession, her fundraising was £2,500 short. An appeal in The Star brought in extra donations from readers.
When told of her Christmas Star award, Gloria said: “I am overwhelmed. It’s not just me who makes this day happen. So many people contribute in so many ways. Without them it wouldn’t be possible.”