Ligonier Township rafter fulfills mission to help wounded veterans recover
By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Published: Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 11:51 p.m.
What started as a hobby for Margery Hermann has turned into a philanthropy in helping wounded veterans recover, fulfilling a decades-long dream for the 78-year-old from Ligonier Township.
A river rafter, Hermann founded Canyon Heroes, which sends veterans struggling with issues related to deployments on a seven-day rafting expedition along the lower Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Since the program began in 2012, she's planned two trips for a total of 12 military veterans. She hopes to fund two raft trips in 2014.
Though Hermann does not attend the veterans' journeys, she knows the area well from personal experience and calls it “God's biggest cathedral.”
“After seven days of being down there, you come away with something powerful most of the time,” she said. “It means different things to different people.”
Hermann said she has wanted to help veterans since she noticed the poor treatment Vietnam War troops received when they returned home.
“The way they were treated was very disgraceful,” she said. “At that time, I just kind of made a promise to myself that someday, I was going to do something to help veterans.”
During the years, she tried to find the right idea, but none seemed viable. Then a light bulb went on.
After rafting the Colorado River several times, Hermann became friends with the river guides,who told her stories of taking blind people and people in wheelchairs on rafting trips.
“They had been trained, and they were well-equipped to handle (it),” she said. “That's when I got the idea in 2011 that maybe this could help veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
She began pitching the idea and found interest from Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, among others. Hermann credits Murphy's office for his help in founding the nonprofit.
She also lauds Ligonier-based attorney George V. Welty and accountant William B. Knapp, who completed incorporation work and tax work for free. Without them, she said, that process could have set back the fledgling organization more than $30,000.
Welty, a Vietnam War veteran, noted Hermann's dedication to making the trips worthwhile.
“She's been such a hard worker on this and certainly has been very diligent on following through with everything,” Welty said. “There's a lot of detail to it, and she has been taking care of everything.”
Since beginning the nonprofit, Hermann has established a 10-person volunteer board, which includes several veterans.
The trips are a form of “adaptive recreational therapy.” River guides and therapists accompany veterans on the large raft.
Participants are referred to Canyon Heroes by clinicians. Some served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and others served in Vietnam, she said.
“One had been in therapy for 40 years and could never open up about anything until this trip,” Hermann said. “It's a very spiritual place. When you go down there, you get a sense of proportion. There's a lot of solitude down there. It's absolutely mind-bogglingly beautiful. It kind of steadies the mind and gives you time to reflect.”
Rafters start at the level river bank and drop deeper into the canyon each day until they're a mile down, looking at 13 major layers of the earth's crust, turquoise pools and waterfalls.
One veteran who participated said he used to have flashbacks to his war experiences, board member Joe Byers said.
“He said, ‘I'm a new person, and I can deal with my anxieties and fears,' ” Byers said.
Byers of Ligonier Township served two tours in Vietnam and has been involved with Canyon Heroes from its inception.
“(The program has) proven to be enormously successful and we just hope to be able to raise enough money to sustain it,” Byers said. “(Hermann is) very, very dedicated. She has a passion for this therapeutic program. She really is totally committed to it.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Husband to stand trial in Derry middle school teacher’s murder
- Youngwood woman charged with selling heroin in Greensburg hospital
- Mt. Pleasant to save with energy-efficient lighting
- Latrobe couple charged with shoving guard, stealing from Wal-Mart
- Failed inspection could make Jeannette flood-control project more costly
- 4 Franklin Regional students remain hospitalized for stab wounds
- Scottdale center to host tribute to singing legends
- Hempfield Area superintendent, business manager quit
- Lt. governor to speak at Westmoreland County GOP’s Reagan dinner
- Westmoreland County shared ride program sees drop in usage
- Norvelt man’s art on display at Seton Hill University’s gallery