I was cruising on State Route 73 West when my sheriff’s radio crackled, “1417, contact the resident at 896 Ward Road, reference vandalism to a mailbox,” the Sheriff’s dispatcher said.
Little did I know how that call would bring me into contact, almost 40 years later, with an exceptionally inspiring man.
Ward Road was not a high crime area in Clinton County. It was, however, a time of change for the community, particularly in the area around New Burlington where the land was being cleared to make way for the flooding of the valley that soon would become Caesar Creek Lake.
Pulling off State Route 380 onto Ward Road, where the woods were thick and the road was narrow, I drove until I approached a farmhouse sitting in a somewhat isolated area not too far from the new 2,830-acre lake.
I had just opened my cruiser door, when the front door of the house swung open and out walked Carl E. Guenther, Sr. and his wife, Luella. “Somebody must have hit the mailbox with a baseball bat,” Carl said. “Can you see the wood fibers sticking out in the heavily damaged mailbox post?”
Carl was pleasant and engaging, and our conversation turned to the new lake and the history surrounding the Guenther’s home. “Are you in a big hurry? Do you have a few minutes?” Carl asked. He said he wanted to show me something. I told him I had no calls pending and it was lunchtime anyway, so we entered the house and Luella had a nice, cool glass of lemonade waiting for me.
Carl showed me a large room with a glassed case full of Indian arrowheads. He said he had found most of them himself on his property when he was plowing the fields. His arrowhead collection was extensive, and as I listened I learned each arrow represented an interesting story.
During my tenure as Clinton County Sheriff, Carl and I became friends. As the years passed, I noticed the name Carl Guenther appearing frequently in the local newspaper. The subject of the stories was Carl Guenther, Jr., Carl’s son, who was an accomplished musician.
I continued to read about Carl Jr. over the years. One Saturday morning about two years ago, I had the opportunity to meet him at a pancake breakfast in Wilmington. We chatted about his family and soon became friends on Facebook.
I found Carl’s postings captivating. He mentioned taking treatments for Castleman’s Disease, a rare and serious disease that affects the body’s lymphatic system, and his visits to the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Cancer Institute in Little Rock.
A month or so ago, I asked Carl why he was going to Little Rock so frequently. He told me he had to receive the treatments for the rest of his life since there was no cure for Castleman’s, and his regular treatments were successfully keeping the disease in remission.
A few weeks ago, Carl posted that he had just finished treatment number 194. He talked about being given two years to live in July of 2005, but he was able to get in a clinical trial of a new drug at the University of Arkansas.
Carl said in the past 11 years he has had 28 different male friends driving with him to Arkansas. The drive is long and hard, almost a 1,500-mile round trip, one he makes faithfully each month.
Carl talked about the heavy rains near Nashville, and how they had witnessed a fatal traffic accident happen about 800 feet in front of them. He also spoke of the time in Memphis when they passed a car and gun shots rang out. Fortunately, Carl and his friend weren’t hit.
At the end of each of Carl’s posts, he prays for safe travels. Regardless of the hardship he faces, he always ends with the words, “God continues to bless.”
Then, February 7, 2017 came. This trip south took a dramatic turn. Carl posted on Facebook that he had been on his way to Little Rock for his last treatment — treatment number 195.
Carl and his friend, Kevin Ellis, were driving through Murray, Kentucky where they were planning to stop for lunch. Just a few blocks away from the restaurant, suddenly, a 3/4-ton truck ran a red light and blew through the intersection at 70 miles an hour, T-boning Carl’s car door. Carl suffered 10 broken ribs, and amazingly, the collision removed a cyst on his left kidney that his doctor had been watching for 10 years. As Carl said, this was not the preferred method of removing the cyst, but his doctors feel he will be okay.
Kevin was injured and transported to the hospital, too, but thankfully he was able to return home quickly.
We will never know why, after thousands of miles and years of travel, such a serious accident would occur now. The good news is Carl should now be out of the hospital and on his way home.
Carl’s faith has never been shaken. And as we know, “God continues to bless.”
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.