BROOKSVILLE — Joey Merrion had made a reservation to attend the 25th reunion of the Hernando High School Class of 1983, but when the big day came in June, he was a no-show.
Puzzled, Cheryl Holley and Delores Williams, members of the planning reunion's committee, set out to find out why.
Holley located Merrion, 42, who filled her in on what his life has been like the last quarter century. Turns out that in 1998, Merrion was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
He has a hard time getting around, he told Holley. He navigates from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, but he can only get outside his home with great difficulty. With a neighbor's help, Merrion, who lives alone in Brooksville, leaves home maybe once a month to "get a few things I need."
Holley and Williams determined their old classmate deserved better than that.
"He didn't ask for help," Holley pointed out, but the friends soon launched a campaign to build a handicapped-accessible ramp at his home.
On Saturday, nearly 16 of Merrion's classmates will gather for the project.
They have great enthusiasm, but they are missing a couple of key components.
Through e-mails to classmates, they have accumulated slightly more than $200, but the building materials are expected to run about $600. Holley and Williams are still e-mailing requests for donations to some 400 classmates and also seeking grants.
And the volunteer workers need professional guidance from a builder.
The Christian Contractors Association this week drew up blueprints and a list of building materials, from pressure-treated lumber to the number and size of screws. But the non-profit organization is so backed up with other projects it cannot send a foreman to oversee this one.
Former classmate and military veteran Chip Talko and his three sons are coming from Texas.
"I will make sure it's done right," Williams said Talko promised her.
News that his old friend was heading back to Hernando this weekend amazed Merrion, who played football and ran track with Talko.
"I can't believe Chip is coming," he said. "It just blows my mind."
Since his diagnosis, Merrion has had to give up a 14-year job he loved in the meat department at Publix. No more pick-up football or running, either.
His mother, who lives nearby, has remissive MS and is battling cancer, Merrion said. His form is progressive MS.
"One morning I woke up and my legs wouldn't work," he recalled.
Merrion is moved by his classmates' effort. "I tried to push them off," he said. "There are other people who are worse off."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.