January 20, 2010


DeRuyter trio grateful to be home

Church group returns from Haiti Monday night after week in capital


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Newly returned from the natural disaster in Haiti, from left, Andy Clendenning, Linda Springer and Vern Groves have a moment together during a press conference at the United Church of DeRuyter Tuesday.

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — Three church volunteer workers who returned from Haiti Monday night said they were grateful for the chance to help as much as they could, in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake.
Andy Clendenning, Linda Springer and the Rev. Vernon Groves said Tuesday they stayed after the quake because they could not get to the Port-au-Prince airport right away, but also because they wanted to assist people, the reason they were in Haiti to begin with.
Talking in the United Church of DeRuyter’s sanctuary, the three said a lack of water and food caused them to finally make their way to the airport, then via military cargo plane to Orlando, Fla., and finally to Syracuse, arriving at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday.
“We thought, we’re here to serve, so that’s what we did — the service just changed,” Groves said. “We told each other that, when we all had our ups and downs.”
The trio was part of an 11-member delegation of volunteers, from many denominations, including a couple from Pierceville, Kan. — Terry and Martha Major, formerly of Blodgett Mills.
They arrived at the Independent Christian Church in the small city of Carrefour, about 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, just a few hours before the 7.0-magnitude quake hit. They stayed there, in the church’s compound, where it was safer for Americans in the chaos that ensued.
Springer, 53, had the only cell phone that worked, because it was AT&T, and she tried to get word to their families in the U.S. that they were safe. But she could not reach anyone until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, when she sent a text message to her younger daughter, Kristi.
“What a sigh of relief when we finally could talk to people back home,” said Groves, 58. “We could get through in the morning or evening. It wasn’t the same thing as hearing a voice, but we were glad.”
They washed and bandaged the wounds of people who escaped the rubble. They looked for ways to break through walls, as the Haitians tried to reach trapped people.
Everyone in their group found ways to use his or her talents, whether it was leading activities for children, trying to solve problems with water supplies or refrigeration, rigging up a toilet or looking for tools to use in clearing rubble. Some buildings had collapsed, some were untouched.
Clendenning, 70, said he was able to use some of his technical knowledge, gained through his work over the years in the dairy industry and for Pepsi.
They watched one man use a large wrench to beat on a wall, trying to help a woman who was trapped in a collapsed house. He could not reach her, and she died.
“It’s hard to fathom how they’re going to even begin to put the country back together,” Springer said. Added Groves: “It will take a lot more than the U.S. to do it.”
As her husband, Tom, and daughter Kristi smiled, Springer said she was grateful just to wear clean clothes again.
Groves wore a white stuffed bear given to him by his granddaughter Hannah, 6, on his shirt. He has been the church’s pastor for 10 years. Before that, he and his wife, Roxanne, spent just over two years with the Cortland Free Methodist Church and a year with a Fairmount church.
Clendenning said he was able to see his oldest child, Michael, during a layover in Atlanta during the trip home. He and his wife, Carol, have four children and three grandchildren.
The three said they will share their experiences and answer questions during the church’s 11 a.m. worship service Sunday.


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