Living on the Edge
An act of kindness, a rich reward
Fri, Oct 20, 2006

LIVING ON THE EDGE
Gordon "Gordy" Smith, 57, suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen during birth.

The oxygen deficit affected his speech, learning skills and speed of comprehension. He has struggled as an adult to find a permanent place to live. For a time, he worked at Cheap Charlie's and had an apartment in Rochester.

But by the time he met JoeAnn R. Whipple, 62, of rural Wabasha County, he was living in a tent on a farmer's property. The two met over lunch at Salvation Army, which offers free meals during the noon hour.

"He kind of got to know me, and he asked if he could come live with us," Whipple said. Although Smith can react angrily if provoked, due to his brain injury, she knows she and her husband are safe with him.

"I actually felt that the Lord put him in our home," Whipple said.

Whipple's husband, Dennis, was injured when a tree fell on him. He was saved by Smith, who was somehow was able to lift the tree off with a tractor.

Many people who live on the street cope with brain injuries -- some of them undiagnosed. The symbiotic relationship helped Smith find stability, and led to a second chance at life for Whipple's husband.

Smith washes the floor and does dishes, things Whipple is medically unable to do, in exchange for a place to live.

"To us he's family. He's the brother I never had," Whipple said.

She stopped going to Salvation Army because she couldn't afford the gas to drive to Rochester.

But whenever she's in town for a medical appointment or some other reason, she eats there. After the tree fell on her husband, the bills piled up.

"We had to borrow money just to make ends meet, and now, with the price of gas, we can't make ends meet," she said earlier this year.

--By Jeff Hansel