Patients can say 'ahhhhhhh' with 12-year-old's comfort pillows


Patients at Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center are bound to feel uplifted through the thoughtful efforts of a local middle schooler.

Grace "Gracie" Steelman, 12, has sewed about a dozen little comfort pillows to donate to cancer patients, said grandmother Elaine Prentice.

With basic skills Elaine taught her, Gracie has produced the pillows from colorful, lightweight cotton fabric and polyester filling. The 8- by 10-inch size is "just right for a little lumbar support or to rest your head, cheek, or arm on during treatment," Elaine said.

They're stitched up on the sewing machine, then after Gracie inserts the stuffing through on opening in the top, the closure is hand-sewn. "Her stitches are tiny, even, and beautiful," Elaine said.

Gracie is dedicated and persistent, exhibiting the "desire to do a job the very best she possibly can. She's that way about everything."

Perhaps her inspiration to bring comfort to others came when Gracie's mom and Elaine's daughter, Lorraine Steelman was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011.

The Pioneer Middle School seventh-grader came up with the idea.

"My mom had cancer, and I wanted to help people who had to take chemo to be more comfortable," Gracie told Elaine.

"She did a beautiful, meticulous job on the pillows," Elaine said.

Treatment recently completed, "Lorraine has been really appreciative of the loving and expert care she received from the nurses, doctors and volunteers at St. Mary," Elaine said.

Lorraine works in the Banner Bank Consumer Loan Department and husband Cliff Steelman owns Steelman Home Inspections.

Gracie's cousin Lillian Hunt, 12, from Albuquerque, N.M., also made and donated several pillows while visiting here in August. She is the daughter of Marcia and Ron Hunt of Albuquerque.

Gracie excels at math, science -- well, everything she gets involved in -- Elaine said, "but she is most noted, by just about everyone, for her warm and loving heart. Naturally, she is amazing with younger children. Any of her teachers would verify this."

This is her first year in the Explorer's Program and she is excited about school. Grace's sister, Tía, 14, is in her first year at Walla Walla High School.

Oh, and post treatment, Lorraine is doing just fine.

Walla Walla High School senior Michelle Ruzicka spent six weeks with Amigos de las Américas in a small village in the Coclé province of Panama.

During the summer service project Michelle joined more than 700 teenagers and young adults around the United States and Latin America who volunteered on public health, education and environment projects in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

AMIGOS volunteers lived with families in communities and worked in small teams on projects such as the construction of libraries, playgrounds, latrines, community gardens, schools, fuel-efficient stoves, water storage tanks and bus stops.

They led youth-to-youth projects that promote healthy social development, improve leadership skills and foster creative expression of young people in their host communities.

Michelle's host family only spoke Spanish. Her two volunteer partners in the rural community came from Washington, D.C., and another province of Panama, according to a release.

Following four days of training in Miami, Michelle gained skills to conduct community service programs with confidence and cultural sensitivity.

"I returned from Panama with great appreciation for my host community's culture and generosity.

"My self-confidence has increased more than I imagined, and I am excited to travel again internationally and experience more cultures," Michelle said in a release.

She is the daughter of Cheri and Marvin Ruzicka of Walla Walla.

Many of the carts zipping around the Walla Walla Fairgrounds during Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days were often operated by AMVETS Post 1111 volunteers who provided a shuttle service.

"This year we had new members step to the plate and found out how much fun it can be and have already asked to be on the list for next year," said Larry Cunnington, post commander.

In addition to Larry, post's officers include Steve Bird, first vice commander; Amil Hoffarth, finance officer, 522-2175; Bob Radke Sr., provost marshall, 301, 4861; Jim Harting, judge advocate, 382-4874; and Don Schack, chaplain, 525-5723. Contact Larry at 525-1964, 520-5372 or

The group's monthly meeting is 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday at Golden West Estates. It's preceded by a potluck at 6 p.m. For more details, see or email

The September AMVETS newsletter includes a review of "Fighting for MacArthur/The Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines," by John Gordon. MacArthur's actions had a deadly impact on 87,000 troops and Army Major Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright, for whom our VA hospital is named.

The reviewer, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Col. Stanton S. Coerr, a GS-15 at Headquarters Marine Corps, takes exception with MacArthur, who was allowed to retire rather than be relieved of command and who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Philippines. "America's defense of the Philippines from December 1941 to May 1942, for which MacArthur was responsible, was a failure," Coerr said.

Coerr is displeased with Gordon's account, describing its insight as superficial when looking and the central issue as to why MacArthur behaved as he did."

As the Philippines fell, MacArthur told George Catlett Marshall he intended "to fight it out to complete destruction" of the invading Japanese. He said he "broke contact with the enemy without the loss of a man or an ounce of material" and that "the situation is now stabilized ... the immediate danger is over."

"In February 1942, in the most infamous action of an infamous career, MacArthur fled the Philippines with wife, child, nanny and five generals in tow, leaving Army Major Gen. Jonathan Wainwright in extremis against both Japan and Washington."

The major general took his North Luzon Force in full retreat south along the Bataan Peninsula. Trapped there by the Japanese, his troops began ferrying across Manila Bay to Corregidor.

"Of his roughly 87,000 American and Filipino troops, some 12,500 made it across, starving, exhausted, sick, and scared. The rest were killed or, worse, captured on Bataan and marched into the ugliest chapter of the Pacific war.

"The defenders of Corregidor held until May, and then to the last man met the same fate. In a moment that strikes to this day at the soul of all Marines, the 4th Marine Regiment's colors were ceremonially burned on Corregidor on 6 May 1942, and at that moment the China Marines (who were previously in Shanghai since 1927) ceased to exist."

Furthermore, Coerr said "Douglas MacArthur lost the Philippines, destroyed the relationship between Army and Navy and, foreshadowing Korea, visited the actual battlefield one time.

"Men under his command starved due to his outright lies to Marshall about his force totals and subsequent insufficient supply."

Before being freed by the Soviets in 1945, Wainwright nearly starved to death in a Japanese prison camp. He was awarded a fourth star.

MacArthur attempted but didn't succeed in denying Wainwright the Medal of Honor, Coerr wrote. Wainwright was cited for "At the repeated risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in his position, he frequented the firing line of his troops where his presence provided the example and incentive that helped make the gallant efforts of these men possible."

"Today we see Wainwright in the famous 2 September 1945 photo aboard the USS Missouri (BB 63), a skeletal, ghostly figure left of center. Center front, though, is the immortal American proconsul accepting the instrument of Japanese surrender--five-star General of the Army Douglas C. MacArthur."

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at or afternoons at 526-8313.


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