by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
Cindy Hartwick could not wait for Jan. 19 to arrive: She was celebrating a huge milestone with her family, friends and members of Calvary Bible Church, where she has been attending most of her life.
Cindy is active, social and outgoing. It’s probably a big reason she has outlived her life expectancy several times over and is now 50.
Cindy is a well-known Special Olympian from Presque Isle County, who was born with Down syndrome. The daughter of Thomas and Sylvia Hartwick was born one month early in 1965.
Doctors said she would not live to be a teen. Technology advances in medicine have forced that to be revised a few times over the years.
“They said 35 to 40 was the maximum,” said brother Neil Hartwick, who cares for Cindy at his home along Noffze Highway.
Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder, sometimes affects the heart, but it’s the Hawks woman’s greatest attribute.
“I think it is the way she was brought up,” said Neil. “We never treated her any different than the rest of the siblings. We showed her love and kindness – and spoiled her.”
“There probably was more kindness, love and understanding,” said sister Valerie Schalk.
The family had been planning Cindy’s 50th birthday party for two years and it was attended by more than 60 people Jan. 17 at the Bismarck Township Hall.
“I told everyone she does not need presents, just bring her a card, she will be totally happy with a card,” said Valerie. “Most people did not listen to me. It’s Cindy, they had to bring her presents!”
“I got a CD (compact disc) player,” said Cindy. It was her favorite gift. “I listen to it every day.”
“She listens to music all of the time,” said Valerie. “She listens to music more than she watches television or anything else.”
Cindy was born with a hole in her heart, and since she had Down syndrome, doctors recommended that she be institutionalized.
“Apparently back in the day, that was the thing to do,” said Valerie. “Mom was in shock and Dad threw a fit. He said, ‘That’s my daughter and I am taking her home.’ They took her home – that was it.”
Cindy has not had too many health issues over the years. She recently had a heart murmur corrected and is on oxygen when she goes to bed at night.
Longtime Special Olympic supporter Barb Watson said Cindy was Presque Isle County’s first Special Olympian.
Valerie trained with her and showed her how to throw a tennis ball for the summer games. She also participated in the 25-meter walk and a Frisbee throw.
“Ninety nine percent of the time, she brought home the gold,” said Valerie.
“A blue ribbon too,” added Cindy.
“One time there was bad weather in Mt. Pleasant and they had the ball toss in a gym. She threw it so hard that it went and bounced off the other side and came back to her.”
Additionally, Cindy has never missed a visit of the Wertz Warriors in the county. Their stops in Millersburg and Onaway are Feb. 6.
Cindy also bowls every Thursday.
“I throw a lot of strikes too – whole bunch of strikes,” Cindy interjected.
She is an associate member of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “She is always there for their fundraisers and special events,” said Neil. At Christmas, Cindy helps out Toys for Kids program by wrapping gifts and socializing.
“She comes up to Recollections with me when I work and hangs out with people,” said Valerie. “They all love her there too.”
She has been attending Calvary Bible Church of Rogers City since her family started attending in 1977.
“Cindy faithfully attends our Bible classes each Sunday morning and is a blessing to both adults and children,” said Jeff Ryan, pastor of Calvary Bible Church. “She especially enjoys singing praises to God and following along with the lessons in her own Bible. She has a tender heart, cares about others, and loves Jesus. God has blessed her with a supportive family and has used her to positively impact many lives for his glory.”
There have been dramatic improvements in health and quality of life for children and adults with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome now live to an average age of 60 years. Just a generation ago, they lived to an average age of only 25. Interestingly enough, that is how old Cindy was when she graduated in Rogers City.
Research from 2013 indicates that of 2,000 parents on mailing lists of Down syndrome organizations, only 4 percent regretted having a child with the condition.
“We do our Christmas and birthday shopping together,” said Valerie.
“I could not imagine a time without her.”