West End News Jan. 20

John Lyght
John Lyght

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Usually I have no trouble writing a farewell piece in this column about West End friends who have recently left us, but writing about John Lyght's passing presents a problem. Where do I start writing about John? The stories about him are without end. I now realize that I knew John and counted him as a good friend for just over 50 years. A lot happens in that length of time.

John was certainly a no-nonsense person in all that he did, whether it was driving a truck in his younger years; or as sheriff for a couple of decades before retirement. An example of that was the crucial help that he gave Sawbill Outfitters when we were trying to get a radio telephone after our ancient hard wire phone line collapsed.

We had long time and expensive negotiations with the Federal Communication Commission. The problem was that AT&T still controlled all of the radio telephone licenses. For us to get a license, that monopoly would have to relinquish a license. AT&T had powerful influence with the FCC, so our application was rejected out of hand. Only intervention by then-Sen. Walter Mondale got our application retrieved from the wastebasket. We eventually cleared the FCC and then we had to contend with the Canadians for the reason that our signal might stray into Canada. The Canadians handled the situation by taking no action for more than a year.

John Lyght had written a strong letter in support of our getting a license since we were so remotely located. I told him of our problem with the Canadians. John said that he would see what he could do. He got dressed in full uniform, went across the border to Thunder Bay and convinced the people there to contact Ottawa on our behalf. Within a week we were informed that the Canadians had removed all objections because of the recommendation of Sheriff John Lyght. The statement from the Canadians read, "The senior law enforcement officer in the jurisdiction, one Sheriff John Lyght, finds no objection to this action.” Our State Department could have used John.

So John Lyght has left us. A legend in his own time, stories about John will be told for a long, long time.

The tragedy in Haiti revived memories of a long ago effort based here in Cook County to help a non-profit group in Haiti. I would guess that this all took place about 30 years ago.

Folks here were collecting lightly used bars of soap from motels in the county, and used clothing to send to Haiti. The problem was to get the collected soap and clothing to Haiti. The cost of shipping was prohibitive. A second consideration was the information that there was a high risk that the shipment would be stolen when it arrived in Haiti.

For some reason, which I do not remember, a unit of the Minnesota National Guard was shipping out to Haiti. One of the senior noncoms in the unit had a summer home in Lutsen. He became aware of the shipment problem and volunteered to have the stuff included in the National Guard material, no charge for shipping. He mentioned that the unit was looking for a project when they got to Haiti.

Carol and George Cole had a cabin about mid-trail on the Gunflint. George was a Mayo Clinic physician. He and Carol went to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti for several months at a time to volunteer. The hospital was in bad physical shape. A lot of repairs of all kinds needed to be made. The suggestion was made to the Guard unit that the connection of Carol and George and the Cook County effort might make the hospital rehab a project.

The Guard unit was made up of members with all kinds of construction skills. There were plumbers, carpenters, electricians, refrigeration mechanics, auto mechanics and other skills as well. The hospital was approved as a project and the unit arrived like a swarm of bees. The guardsmen had the skills, and the military had the supplies. It took about a month to get the place all ship-shape. The final project was the repair of the staff swimming pool, which had not been in operation for years. It was fixed, the guardsmen took a swim, and then back to Minnesota. I Googled the hospital website to see how the earthquake had affected Hospital Albert Schweitzer.

The hospital is located about 40 miles north of Port-au-Prince. The hospital was undamaged, but almost immediately seriously wounded patients showed up. The patient load went from 75 to 80 patients a day to 500 admitted the day after the earthquake, most with critical injuries. Medical supplies are rapidly being exhausted. Patients are being treated in hallways and outdoors in the courtyard. The website said that anyone with any medical provider skills has come to the hospital from remote clinics in the hills. This situation is beyond even the talented Minnesota National Guard. It defies decisions about what action can be made which would make a difference. This is way beyond collecting soap.

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