Allen Shinnaberry and Mike Semer, both from Van Wert, met 18 years ago putting on gospel music concerts locally at places like Fountain Park, the Apple Festival, and Old Fashioned Farmers Days. Shinnaberry was the sound tech. Over the years the two became close friends, “like brothers.”
A couple of years ago, Shinnaberry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In February, he requested a wish through the Angel Foundation in Van Wert for him and his wife, Joanne, to go to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, with their close friends Mike and Edna Semer.
“Edna and I were honored that he would think of including us in his wish,” said Mike Semer. “He and I, and our wives have grown close over the years but this [trip] really solidified our relationship.”
The couples had made similar trips to the same destination in the past, but this trip would be different, much deeper than just another vacation. Allen was dealing with a terminal illness and Edna Semer had just gone through a bout with stomach cancer over the previous months.
The Angel Foundation is a wish program for terminally-ill adults offered through Community Health Professionals (CHP) in Van Wert and is a partner agency with United Way of Van Wert County.
The Angel Foundation made Shinnaberry’s wish a reality by assisting with reservations and providing money for food, gas, attractions, and souvenirs for a six-day trip from February 25 to March 2 to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The couples stayed at the Semer’s timeshare condo.
“It was a fantastic trip; it was like a family outing,” said Shinnaberry. “Having Mike and Edna with us made it special. Mike is like a brother to me, and he took care of me like a baby chick.”
During their trip, the couples took in many of the traditional landmarks of the area, including The Old Mill Restaurant, Paula Deen’s, and Three Bears General Store. Their most memorable activities, according to Shinnaberry, were Dick’s Last Resort, the Dixie Stampede, and Brian Hoffman’s Red Skelton tribute show.
“I called ahead to most of the places we were planning to go to make handicap arrangements and to let them know what was happening with this being a wish trip,” said Semer. “The general manager at Dick’s (a chain of restaurants known for its intentionally obnoxious servers and wacky atmosphere where patrons are insulted and placed in uncomfortable situations) said, ‘We’ll give you an experience you won’t forget.’ Allen had no idea what to expect going in!”
“They throw napkins at you, put paper hats on you, and the waitress did snow angels on the floor in all the napkins,” Shinnaberry said. “I was getting pretty upset and asked to speak to the manager, and then Mike let me in on what was going on.”
With Allen’s health and since Edna had just gone through cancer, the couples paced their schedule to include time to rest during the days. But, they would go out most evenings.
“Allen really wanted to go to the Dixie Stampede and he was having a rough day with pain that afternoon,” said Semer. “But he got it under control and he had a wonderful time there.”
At Hoffman’s Tribute to Red Skelton, Shinnaberry had a front row center seat and got to meet Hoffman after the show and found him to be personable, even going the extra mile of helping Shinnaberry to the restroom and to their car.
“The people there gave me VIP treatment everywhere I went,” Shinnaberry said. “Nobody made a big issue about my disease, they just went out of their way to treat me well.”
The trip also provided the opportunity for close friends to discuss important, albeit sensitive, matters facing the reality of the situation.
“We reflected back, but also discussed the future, like planning the music for his funeral,” Semer said. “It’s a hard thing to approach, but we did it. I feel blessed to have had that time with Allen.”
Both men credit their faith in God as the sustaining force in their lives.
“I’ve been struggling with [cancer] for over two years and it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever face,” said Shinnaberry. “But God has taken care of me. God made this trip possible. Through his pain, Jesus paid for all my pain and suffering.”
Semer says he’s been inspired by how his friend has carried himself through his struggle.
“We’re both strong believers, but Allen’s been a true example through all of this,” he said. “I’ve never seen him angry about it.”
Now back in Van Wert, both Shinnaberry and Semer reflect thankfully for the time together this Angel Foundation trip afforded them. The reality of a terminal cancer diagnosis makes their memories bittersweet, but they believe they couldn’t have asked for more.
Shinnaberry receives care at his home through CHP Home Care & Hospice.
“The nurses all care for me and will do anything to care for me,” Shinnaberry said. “They come at night if you have a special need. It’s painful at times and the nurses are right there to help you through — they know just what to do.”
The purpose of all Angel Foundation wishes is to make a significant impact in the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the wish recipient and to hopefully create fond, lasting memories for loved ones that are left behind.
“All told, I think [the trip] was so good for him,” Semer said, “because it just seemed like everything brightened up for him; not only when we were there, but all the way back.”
Shinnaberry says he’s thankful to everybody involved in making his wish come true, including all those who provide financial support for The Angel Foundation and CHP Hospice.
“The Angel Foundation is a really nice thing,” he said. “To know somebody cares about you. It shows people aren’t giving up on you, you’re still special.”