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Lifelong volunteer overcomes disability to aid others

Margaret Storm slices fruit in her kitchen in Chest Springs. Paralyzed in a car accident at age 20, Storm has spent the last 50-plus years in service to others. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

CHEST SPRINGS — Margaret Storm’s laugh is spontaneous, joyful, robust and suited to a woman with a ready smile who has spent the last 50-plus years in service to others.

She’s spent countless hours teaching safe babysitting practices and cooking to children through the local Grange and has sent hundreds of Christmas and birthday cards to local residents and members of the armed services.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she also visited residents and stopped at local nursing homes decked out in an Easter bunny suit.

During the visits, she spent time talking with the residents and distributing plastic eggs filled with peppermint candies.

Storm said she looks forward to when coronavirus restrictions are lifted and she can again visit.

“I had fun doing it. I like to make people laugh,” Storm, 73, said of dressing up. “I like to brighten people’s day. People loved it.”

Storm said often residents make a quick connection with her.

“When I go into the nursing homes, people look at me and I say, ‘Yes, I am just like you — I am in a wheelchair.’ I let them feel my fur and I always wore gloves.”

Paralyzed from the waist down from injuries suffered in a single-car crash, the then-20-year-old was comatose for weeks and hospitalized in Pittsburgh for a year, where she re-learned how to feed and dress herself.

“The accident never held her back from doing anything,” said her daughter, Tammy Parker, 51. “She drove, took care of her kids and grandkids, she traveled and wasn’t afraid to fly. She flew to Mississippi and to Germany — twice — and Missouri, twice. The main thing is that the accident never held her back from living a full life. And her kids never wanted for anything.”

Storm’s philosophy to “take it one day at a time because you never know what is going to happen” has helped her persevere through a multitude of challenges.

“You get through one day and see what is going to happen tomorrow,” she said. “Tomorrow maybe you’ll be a little stronger and one day you’ll be able to do it.”

Her fortitude and “can do” attitude takes on even more meaning when put in perspective of the late 1960s — 30 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act made curb cuts, ramps and special parking places for the physically challenged commonplace.

She pushed herself around in a wheelchair and relied on her husband to carry her up steps to access stores and other locations.

Margaret and her husband, Dave, had been married for two months and one day when the crash happened. They had been building a split-level house in Tipton, Blair County. Instead, Dave Storm and their brothers-in-law combined their talents to build the home where she still lives — one with no steps and a custom-designed kitchen that places counters and appliances at the best height for her in the wheelchair.

Twin sister Martha and Margaret’s other siblings — Ruth, Richard, Ron, Raymond, Lucy and Janet — all help each other out.

The family demonstrates what Margaret instilled in her children, Tammy said, that family comes first. The couple were married for 36 years, until Dave’s death in 2014.

“It’s amazing that she could do all that she does. She does a lot more than most people,” Martha Watters said.

“She could handle her handicap. She was able to do things. She inspired a lot of people and people look up to her,” Martha said of her sister.

For about 30 years, the twins and 20 girlfriends went camping for a long weekend at Prince Gallitzin State Park. Margaret often talked to the rangers on how greater access could be made for people in wheelchairs, Martha said.

Despite what some would see as an obstacle, Margaret taught cooking and safe babysitting practices at the Pleasant Hill Grange for 27 years. Asked how many boys and girls she taught, she estimated it would be several hundred.

Lori Huber of Hastings, who participated in 4-H and Grange activities and spent a lot of time at the Storm house growing up as she was friends with Parker, said she was always impressed by Margaret’s strength.

“She impressed me even as a kid. I was impressed with how well she did things. She never shied away from doing anything. It never seemed to be a hindrance,” Huber said. The exposure to a capable, strong, physically challenged woman made Huber comfortable around other atypical adults and see beyond their challenges.

“(Margaret) never seemed to need help. She was so resilient and good at adapting to her surroundings,” Huber said, adding Margaret’s generosity and attitude served as a role model. “She was a good example of how to give back.”

The Storm file

Name: Margaret Storm

Age: 73

Family: Daughter Tammy Parker, son Timothy; seven brothers and sisters, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren

Education: Cresson High School, Class of 1965

Volunteerism: Pleasant Hill Grange Master and 4H Leader in Ebensburg

Awards: Cambria County Officer Award; Unsung Hero Award as Granger

of the Year

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