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Volunteer builds new life for self, others after brain injury

Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity volunteer builds new life after surviving injury.
by Ken Raymond Modified: October 5, 2012 at 12:15 am •  Published: October 7, 2012
/articleid/3716030/1/pictures/1850040">Photo - Gary Farnum and his wife Glenda relax in the backyard with their dog Horatio at their home in Oklahoma City, October 1, 2012. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman
Gary Farnum and his wife Glenda relax in the backyard with their dog Horatio at their home in Oklahoma City, October 1, 2012. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

Now he needed something to do. He'd never been much of a handyman, but he had fond memories of a day he'd spent volunteering for Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity some years earlier.

“I wanted to go back there and become a volunteer,” he said. “I knew it would be hard for them to tell me what to do because I wouldn't understand the words. I thought I may work one day and then they wouldn't want me to come back.”

The Habitat folks welcomed him. He learned how to frame houses and work on interior construction. He developed friendships with the other volunteers and the charity's staff. Communication was difficult, but those around him realized that all they had to do was show Gary how to do something, and he'd be able to make it work.

“When Gary sets his mind to something, he's going to figure it out,” said Rick Lorg, the charity's volunteer coordinator. “It's been cool to get to know Gary and have that relationship because he's someone who is always looking for opportunities to help out.”

Gary has volunteered two days a week for about 19 months. His efforts haven't gone unnoticed. In August, he was honored by the Oklahoma City RedHawks, who presented Gary with the 2012 Chesapeake Energy Community All-Star award.

“Out of 9,000 volunteers who come through here every year, we had the chance to nominate one person,” Lorg said. “We chose Gary not because of his (health) issues but because of his commitment and work ethic. He's always on time. He follows directions. Even when he doesn't understand … once he gets it he does an amazing job.”

Earning that recognition wasn't the most remarkable thing Gary did this summer.

Before his brain injury, Gary stayed in shape by exercising and lifting weights. Biking, in particular, was something he enjoyed because it gave him a chance to spend time with his daughter. Like her father, Audrey Farnum is an attorney. Like her mother, she is blind.

She and Gary shared a tandem bicycle. He'd sit in front and steer. She'd help him pedal from the rear seat.

Bicycling seemed like something else that was lost to the stroke — but Gary wasn't willing to stop.

In August, he and Audrey completed the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred, a 100-mile bicycle race in Texas.

“It was really tough,” Audrey Farnum said. “There was a really strong wind that day, and we had some trouble, but crossing that finish line was amazing.”

It would've been easy to surrender, but this Gary, the one we're lucky to know today … well, that just isn't in his nature.

“A lot of people would've just given up,” his daughter said of Gary's struggles, “but he never did. He won't quit.”

by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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