March 13, 2013 - When a new session at Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles (O.A.T.S.) was set to start, March 11, instructors and volunteers were there, leading their horses from stables to waiting students.
Nancy L. Heussner, founder of O.A.T.S., passed away last week. Photo provided (click for larger version)
Nancy L. Heussner, O.A.T.S. founder and executive director who passed away suddenly, March 4, 2013, wouldn't have been surprised.
"It's what Nancy would have expected, for us to be here on Monday at 3:30, ready for a new session," said volunteer Melissa Sturgis.
The O.A.T.S. dream goes on, said instructor Beth Pellerito.
"We have very big boots to fill," Pellerito said. "We won't be able to do that, but we'll do what Nancy taught us to do. We have a very good group of people. It took years to form such a strong team."
"She had a heart of gold – she looked beyond any disability to appreciate the person within," said Elaine Moloney, volunteer. "She never stopped looking for ways to serve other people. She did amazing things."
"She helped her students whether young or old," said Jim Moloney, Elaine's husband. "She was a tireless servant to the community."
She helped their son and hundreds of fellow students develop self confidence, which they can transfer to every aspect of their lives, Jim said.
"She left a strong foundation," he said. "We can't replace her, but like she said, 'walk on.'"
She had high expectations for her students, children and adults with a wide range of physical and emotional disabilities, and they lived up to them, he said.
"They never wanted to disappoint Miss Nancy," Jim said.
"She found ways to get kids to speak, to get out of their wheelchairs and get up on a horse," Elaine said.
"'No' wasn't in her vocabulary," Pellerito said. "She never accepted limits, never said a student couldn't ride. That's what made her unique. She was here to help people – we're here to keep her dream going. I hope it goes on forever."
Heussner was the loving wife of Steven for 39 years; beloved mother of Amanda Taylor; proud grandmother of Steven and Hunter; and dear sister of Karen Langer.
Funeral Service was March 9 at the Lewis E. Wint & Son Funeral Home, Clarkston. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to O.A.T.S. Online guestbook, www.wintfuneralhome.com.
Volunteers are needed to assist students by leading or walking alongside their horses, help out in the stables and arena, maintenance, event coordination, and other tasks. Also starting this week at O.A.T.S., 3090 Weidemann Drive off M-15, is a new program for veterans through Wounded Warriors.
To volunteer or donate to the non-profit organization, check OATShrh.org.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.