Funeral to honor ‘inspiring’ resident
Like any disease, ALS shows no bias. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease, infects and kills approximately 6,000 people each year and cannot be misconstrued as prejudiced.
When considering the circumstances and the personality of the late Jerry Manford, a Basehor resident, you wish that weren't the case. If the disease can take a man possessing Jerry's humor, kindness and enthusiasm, it can take anyone.
Manford lost his three-year battle with ALS Sunday at his home in Basehor. He was 41 years old.
An autopsy report indicates he died from a blocked artery near his heart. It's an ironic death because so many people attest to the strength of his heart and Jerry's willingness to share it with others.
"He was always genuinely concerned about everybody," said his wife, Diana Manford.
"He's always been a cheerleader for other patients," said Nancy Lindquist of the ALS Foundation in Prairie Village. "He never gave up hope that there was going to be something out there that could help."
In 2002, shortly after he was diagnosed with ALS, Manford said "it's a battle but I try not to let it interfere with my life." His years and activity since then prove that notion correct.
Whether it was giving children a ride on his wheelchair, helping coach the Lake of the Forest swim team, mentoring high school kids or just cracking jokes -- a Manford trademark -- Jerry didn't let the ALS define him.
Tears mixed with parts joy and sadness rang in the voice of Doug Nelson, coach of the Lake of the Forest swim team, when he relayed a story about how his daughter, Jillian, was inspired by Manford during a meet.
Jillian, an underdog, was swimming against tough competition. When she saw Manford cheering with every ounce of his being, she kicked her performance into a new gear.
"I asked her about it," Nelson said. "She said it was coming down the finish line and seeing Jerry cheer for her.
"It just motivated her to a great performance -- he did that with all the kids."
Nelson, who made Manford an honorary swim coach, renamed a spirit award, given annually to a swimmer that exhibits positive qualities, the "Jerry Manford Spirit Award."
"Jerry was just very inspiring and it's going to be real sad not to have him around," Nelson said. "I'm glad (the spirit) award is going to be something that we'll carry on."
Manford contributed to society in more ways than just the swimming team. He visited with students in high schools and colleges, made himself available to nursing and pharmaceutical students and worked with the ALS Foundation each year on benefits and advanced research trials.
"He was a willing participant in doing that," Lindquist said. "He wanted to help in any way that he could."
Trisha Dobson, a teacher at Bonner Springs High School, said Manford's participation with students at her school made positive influences on many young lives. When Dobson's class was reading "Tuesdays with Morrie," a best seller about an elderly man battling ALS, Manford came and spoke candidly with students about the challenges of living with the disease.
"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man," Dobson said. "It cannot be described the impact he had on these kids."
Diana said her husband, quite understandably, would sometimes grow despondent about the disease he was facing. However, he never let those emotions carry over into the public. Rare would be the occasion Manford didn't have a joke at the ready or a smile on his face, Diana said.
"He's always been a character and that's what everybody liked about him," she said. "It was just his way of dealing with (the disease). He didn't want anybody feeling sorry for him."
His appreciation for humor and his zeal for making others smile was so great, he requested his family tailor his funeral away from traditional "doom and gloom" trappings, Diana said.
His funeral will include a moon walk, a toy-casket door prize and quite possibly, pony rides. Also, Manford was adamant that his casket feature two labels reading "return to sender" and "express mail."
Before his passing, Manford spoke about his desire of writing a book titled "Putting the FUN back in funeral."
"We don't want a traditional funeral because that's not what Jerry wanted," Diana Manford said. "He wanted it to be a celebration. He didn't want the boo-hoo."
Manford's services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Bonner Springs Church of the Nazarene with burial to follow in the Leavenworth National Cemetery. Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the church.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorial contributions to the ALS Association, Keith Worthington Chapter, or the Northcare Hospice and Palliative Care both in care of the Alden-Harrington Funeral Home, 214 Oak St., Bonner Springs, KS 66012 (913) 422-4074.
He was born Jan. 23, 1963, in Kansas City, Mo. He grew up in the greater Kansas City area, graduating from Lee's Summit High School in 1981. After serving four years in the U.S. Navy he went on to graduate from DeVry Institute. He recently retired from the Federal Aviation Administration as an airway transportation systems specialist. He was a member of the Bonner Springs Church of the Nazarene.
He was preceded in death by his brother, Greg H. Manford, and by his father, Judge Donald L. Manford. Survivors include his wife, Diana, of the home; three children, Moriah and Elissa Manford, also of the home, and Justin Manford, Merriam; three sisters, Gayle Lynne Livesay, Berryville, Va.; Eugenia Bodnar, of Oakton, Va.; and Stacy Billingsley, Broken Arrow, Okla; his mother, Carol Manford, Myrtles Inlet, S.C.; and his mom, Judy Manford, Kingsville, Mo., as well as a host of friends and extended family.
Arrangements by Alden-Harrington Funeral Home, Bonner Springs (913) 422-4074.