Retired Educator Provides Walking Sticks for Aid Mission in Jamaica

Retired Educator Provides Walking Sticks for Aid Mission in Jamaica

Ron Fowler and Cornellie Squires smile following Squires recent humanitarian aid trip to Jamaica for the Joshua Mission. Fowler provided 42 handmade walking sticks and canes while Squires traveled to the country to give aid. SweetwaterNOW photo by David Martin.

ROCK SPRINGS — A retired Rock Springs educator’s hobby of making canes and walking sticks is helping the impoverished residents of a Jamaican city.

Ron Fowler recently sent 42 of his sunflower stalk walking sticks to Negril, Jamaica as part of the nondenominational Joshua Mission’s aid to residents of the city. Local volunteers with the mission flew to Jamaica last month with donations from Sweetwater County residents and businesses to help provide healthcare services in Negril.

Fowler is a familiar name to generations of Rock Springs residents. A longtime Rock Springs High School English teacher, he spent nearly 43 years educating the city’s youth and has taught approximately 5,600 students throughout his career. Fowler’s hobby making walking sticks started about 30 years ago when he had some sunflower stalks that he had left out over the winter and had discovered the stalks became firm and strong after they had dried out. He overheard students talking about taking hikes and having their walking sticks break and decided to try making a walking stick using a dried stalk. Fowler quickly discovered the stalks make excellent walking sticks.

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Fowler said he grows the sunflowers he uses for his walking sticks and receives stalks from four other people. After drying for a year, Fowler sands the stalks by hand and coats them with varnish. For the walking sticks, Fowler places a steel tip at the top of the stick and a rubber foot at the bottom, while with the canes, he fits a rubber handle at the top of the cane. Over the years, he has given his finished pieces to friends, family and former students, and had created a small stockpile at his home.

“I just do this for fun,” Fowler said. “I like to see the smile on people’s faces when they get them.”

A Jamaican woman stands up, using a cane made by Fowler. Photo courtesy of Cornellie Squires

Fowler’s involvement with the Joshua Mission started last March when Cornellie Squires, an RN currently working for Medcor at Genesis-Alkali, contacted him about the sticks. Squires had previously worked with Fowler’s wife and knew about his hobby. When she asked about the sticks and sending them to Jamaica, Fowler immediately agreed.

“I said yes. I was wondering what I was going to do with all these walking sticks,” he said.

Along with the stockpile he already had, Fowler made several more throughout the year. Fowler is especially thankful to Ace Hardware in Rock Springs and Store Manager Cory Bohlmann. He said Ace Hardware donated the steel tips he uses for the top of the walking sticks, which allowed him to make more than he would have been able to otherwise. When the time came, Fowler had 42 sticks and canes ready to be shipped to Jamaica.

“Ron was amazing with all of these canes,” Squires said.

When one thinks of Jamaica, they often imagine picturesque beaches and beautiful resorts. However, beyond the resorts and beaches, poverty is a problem in the country. While strides have been made in recent years in lowering the poverty rate within the country, many still live below the poverty line and struggle with access to basic healthcare. Squires said a lot of people use rain barrels to collect fresh water, with access to running water very limited.

The Joshua Mission was founded in 2016 and incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2019 specifically to help underserved populations in Negril. The mission is based in Cary, Illinois and has provided week-long medical clinics in Negril for the past four years.

Cornellie Squires and Ron Fowler stand with an assortment of canes and walking sticks Fowler made that were sent to Jamaica. Photo courtesy of Cornellie Squires

Squires arrived in Jamaica Feb. 17 and spent a week assisting the mission. She said Fowler wasn’t the only county resident donating to the mission, as Genesis-Alkali donated safety gloves, Industrial Supply provided safety glasses, Tina and John Mullinex helped gather clothing donations, and Dr. Bryce Castillon provided dental hygiene kits.

“That was just by word of mouth. The people of Sweetwater County have been so generous,” Squires said. “It really brings home why we live here.”

Squires said the group provided medical care to more than 500 people and more than 100 dental patients during the four days they were serving Negril. Squires said instances of high cholesterol and diabetes are prevalent amongst residents, as well as the need for wound care. The mission offers medications and medical supplies to help treat those conditions, as well as provide other medical services.

With Fowler’s canes and sticks, she said mission volunteers could quickly saw them down to an appropriate height before handing them away, making them easily adjusted to the height of a patient.  

Squires said she already has her flight to Jamaica booked next year. She says the experience of helping Negril’s residents was life-changing for her.

“It’s just such a humbling experience to go down and help them,” she said.

Fowler remains busy building more walking sticks and canes to send next year.

“I keep making them,” he said. “I’ll have a whole bunch more.”