12/25/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
Armed with a family's boundless love, two brave young lives rise from the rubble of April 19
"More," demands 4-year-old Brandon Denny, Thanksgiving turkey tumbling from his already overstuffed mouth. Throughout the Denny home in southwest Oklahoma City an amiable chaos reigns, scored by the raucous buzz of NFL football. Brandon's parents, Jim and Claudia, arrange a lavish buffet spread, while his big brothers Kevin, Mike and Tim, all in their 20s, debate the relative merits of the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. Now and then, Brandon's sister Rebecca, who is almost 3, tears through the room. But at the sight of the gorging Brandon, she brakes, and soon both children are chomping on drumsticks, their cheeks bulging.
It's an archetypal holiday scene, played out in countless homes across the nation—and therein lies a double miracle. For just months before, on April 19, Brandon and Rebecca Denny were among 21 children and three adults at America's Kids, a day-care center on the second floor of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal building. At 9:02 a.m. CDT, a 4,800-pound ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb exploded in a van parked under the nine-story complex. Within seconds, America's Kids was engulfed in exploding sheets of fire, falling concrete and powdered glass. All told, 169 people were killed by the blast, the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil—all the more wrenching because two Americans, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who will stand trial next year, are accused of committing it.
Only six of the 24 people at America's Kids, all of them children, survived the bombing. Among them were Brandon and Rebecca Denny, who, after $300,000 in hospital bills so far (covered by insurance), are expected to make full recoveries. Their parents, of course, knew none of that when they rushed to the scene—Jim, 50, from his job at a toolmaking shop and Claudia, 37, his second wife, from her office at the nearby IRS. For hours they wandered numbly around the smoldering bomb site, sick with fear for their children. "I did not believe anyone could have lived through that," Jim says of the carnage.
The Dennys went to the local Red Cross center to await news. There they heard a television report that a girl with long red hair was undergoing surgery at Southwest Medical Center. As the Dennys soon discovered, the child was Rebecca. "For about five seconds, we were the most relieved parents in the world," Jim told PEOPLE at the time. "Then we thought about Brandon."
A few hours later came news from Mike Denny, 28, one of Jim's three sons from his first marriage, who was calling from his Long Beach, Calif., home: a friend from Oklahoma City had alerted him that another Baby Doe, a boy with strawberry blond hair like Brandon's, was in surgery at Presbyterian Hospital. The child was unrecognizable under his bandages—but Jim identified him by a birthmark on his upper left thigh. "We. love you, Brandon," he said to the unconscious boy. "We're here."
Their children found, the Dennys settled into a routine—Claudia looked after Rebecca at one hospital while Jim kept vigil over Brandon at the other. Rebecca and Brandon were a scant 50 feet from ground zero when the explosion hit, and they were badly battered. The little girl had a red sandblasted look, the skin peeled clean off her left side by concrete and glass, leaving her speckled with debris. A chunk of one-inch blue plastic, believed to be from the barrel that encased the bomb, drilled through her cheek and tongue and lodged in her mouth. "It barely missed her jugular vein," Claudia says before shouting "Slow down" as her daughter sprints blithely past. "She suffered unbelievable pain for a 2-year-old baby. You couldn't touch her for two days after the explosion."
Some 130 stitches and surgery on a fractured elbow followed. Each day, Rebecca howled when nurses cleansed her wounds. "I couldn't cry anymore, because I didn't want her to see me," Claudia says. "I was crying inside."
Brandon, by contrast, appeared relatively unscathed—deceptively so, for his injuries were far graver. When he was rescued, there was a quarter-size wound above his left eye, in his hairline. Dust and concrete shards from the blast lodged precariously near one of his brain's major control centers.
For 30 days, Brandon lay drugged and semicomatose in his hospital bed. His surgeon, Dr. Emery Reynolds, 52, was frank with the Dennys, offering worst-case scenarios: paralysis, profound brain damage, death. Nevertheless he warned the family not to voice despair, for Brandon might well be able to hear and perhaps understand every word. And so Jim Denny spent hours talking to his son, stroking his head and arms. "When he would talk to him, Brandon's heart rate would go up, the pressure in his skull would come down," says Carlene Anteau, 30, a nurse who looked after the boy. Often, Jim cradled Brandon in a rocking chair the nurses brought in. "Sometimes," Anteau says, "Brandon just needed holding."
Rebecca went home 10 days after the blast. Livelier than she was before the bombing, she remembered nothing of it. Four days after her release, the Dennys received grave news: Brandon had taken a dangerous turn for the worse. The child's temperature was fluctuating and a massive infection was invading his brain. "It's not good," said Dr. Reynolds. Replied Jim: "With you and prayers and love, we can't go wrong."
Twice over the next nine days, Reynolds surgically scraped Brandon's head clean of debris, bone and dead brain tissue. Thirty days after the explosion, Jim Denny asked Reynolds once again, "Is he going to make it?" The doctor, chary of raising false hopes, had always been noncommittal, but now he stunned Denny with his emphatic reply. "Yes," Reynolds said. "I think he's going to make it."
Though they were giddy with relief, the Dennys' ordeal was far from over. On June 2, Brandon flew with his father to the Pediatric Center for Restorative Care in Dallas to undergo rigorous, often frustrating, rehabilitation. Brain damage left the boy weak on the right side—his arm hung useless and his leg was too wobbly to stand on. More troubling was the matter of speech: able to articulate full sentences before the bombing, he had not uttered a sensible word since. "If Brandon never speaks another word, I don't care," Jim told PEOPLE. "We have a boy to love and that's what's important."
Over the next few weeks, however, Brandon made heartening progress on all fronts. He "was using head nods and saying yes and no to communicate wants! Wow!" nurse Anteau wrote in a July 10 progress report. Soon words sprang spontaneously—and accurately—from his mending intellect. He began to identify colors.
On July 26, Brandon left the hospital, the last of the six child survivors of the bombing to be released. Media enveloped him—and Brandon did not disappoint. Grinning, wearing sunglasses, he basked in the adoration of the press. "He's a ham," said his father at a news conference, where he announced the family would soon head for Disneyland—for which they were given free passes. "I'll have to say there were days I wasn't so sure he'd get out," Jim conceded before flying back to Oklahoma. "We've said since April 19 that all we wanted was a boy and a hug. We've got more than we expected."
Three weeks later, the Dennys arrived at the Long Beach home of Jim's 76-year-old mother, Anne Warner. Rebecca, now almost fully recovered, seemed to be in perpetual motion. Brandon, out of sorts since his release from the hospital, seemed perpetually cranky. Now, sitting in his grandmother's living room, he cried constantly. His forehead felt hot to the touch.
"Where do you hurt?" asked Claudia, and her son patted his chest, from which a feeding tube had recently been removed. "Maybe the doctor's right," she added. "He said the concussion of the blast was so severe that every muscle in Brandon's body knotted up. He's just one big charley horse."
At Disneyland the following day, only a tug at Mickey Mouse's nose fleetingly calmed the pained and teary boy. Upon returning home to Oklahoma City he was unimproved, now too listless even to watch TV. Then, on Aug. 31, with Brandon's fever skyrocketing, his mother noticed a lump bulging from the boy's forehead and called to her husband: "Jim, we've got trouble."
A CAT scan revealed that fluid from a life-threatening infection, building under the scalp, was causing the bulge. "Dr. Reynolds told us that each time there is an infection, you lose a little IQ," said Jim. At worst, successive bouts could sap entirely Brandon's powers of reason. The only hope was delicate surgery—a slip could damage crucial brain tissue or even worse, nick an artery. "He could d-i-e," Jim said, one hand clasping Brandon's as he spelled out the word to his family—a somber group, save for Rebecca, who played with a puzzle on the ICU floor.
"Do you know who's my angel?" Jim asked his ailing boy. Brandon grinned, pointing to himself. "Do you know what we're going to do? In two years, we are going to play baseball."
On Sept. 4—the day before Brandon's scheduled surgery—the Dennys, sporting party hats, massed in the boy's ICU cubicle to celebrate his fourth birthday. Balloons floated to the ceiling, a chorus of "Happy Birthday" filled the room, and Claudia brought out a cupcake with lighted candles, which Brandon, with help from his sister, extinguished. Parents and big brothers assisting, he tore open the mountain of gifts from family, staff and well-wishers that spilled off the mattress to the hospital floor: Mickey Mouse dolls, a Lion King snow scene, a clucking mechanical chicken.
"You're going for a ride on your bed," Jim told Brandon the next afternoon, as the boy was wheeled to the OR. In the next four hours surgeons excised the source of the infection: an oval, two-inch fragment of particle board blown into the child's skull by the blast. The operation was a resounding success. Later in the recovery room, Jim Denny, not yet out of miracles, gave Brandon the "thumbs up"—and his boy, though bandaged and weak, grinned sweetly and returned the gesture.
"Santa Claus!" Brandon cries, his voice rising above the recorded Christmas carols playing for the Dennys' Dec-5 tree-trimming party. Standing with the slightest support from his father, he attaches an ornamental St. Nick to a seven-foot faux evergreen.
"That's wonderful," says Claudia, guiding Rebecca, now 3, as she hangs a bulb.
Brandon can speak simple sentences now, his right arm is markedly stronger, and, though he still wears a leg brace, he is close to walking on his own. Rebecca's pale skin is all but healed. "You ask any of our family what they want for Christmas," says Jim. "They always say they already have their present." And as their children festoon the tree with peppermint candy canes, he and his wife beam, knowing that in a city aching with emptiness, they have a full house.
Doing good—and doing very well
To help their daughter, a Virginia couple founded a company that helps others
Since May, when PEOPLE first visited the Special Persons Mailing Service in Virginia Beach, Va., business has tripled. "We're swamped," says Art Roy. Art, 68, a retired Navy officer, and his bookkeeper wife, Floy, 62, founded Special Persons four years ago as a way to secure employment for the couple's daughter Jennifer, now 24, whose job prospects were limited because she has Down syndrome.
Staffed entirely by the mentally handicapped, the company offers collating, labeling and stamping services to corporate clients. Art initially hoped just to break even, but his company is now in such demand that he has bought a new building for $205,000, with employees' parents chipping in for the $60,000 down payment. "How 'bout that?" he says proudly. The new office, a few blocks from the rented quarters SPMS now occupies, has triple the current floor space, which will allow the company to expand its 23-person work force.
Jennifer, sidelined for much of the summer by a thyroid condition that is now under control, is working full-time at Special Persons, where her weekly salary is $112.50. (Exempt from minimum-wage laws, employees earn an average of $3 an hour.) Her parents are drowning in inquiries from groups seeking to emulate their work. The admiration is gratifying, but not as gratifying as Jennifer's happiness, and Art is grooming a successor to make sure she'll have Special Persons even after he and Floy are gone. "Permanence," says Art, "is what we're looking for now."
Casualties of war
Mourning the loss of eight mountain gorillas, Dieter Steklis fights to save the rest
When biologist Dieter Steklis visited Rwanda last January after one of Africa's most savage civil wars, he was relieved to see that the world's endangered mountain gorillas—whose lives were chronicled in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist—had miraculously survived. "I was optimistic," says Steklis, 49, director of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, who began laying plans to rebuild the ransacked Karisoke Research Center so that conservation work could resume. "I thought because the war had ended, the threat to the gorillas had passed."
He was mistaken. In April, Steklis received word at his home in Princeton, N.J., that four gorillas had been speared to death in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the northern part of the animals' 285-square-mile range. In July and August, rangers in Zaire's Virunga National Park (just west of Rwanda's border) found four more dead gorillas, three killed by single bullets through the heart. Steklis's worst fears had been realized. "It seems people were taking advantage of the postwar instability and confusion to try and smuggle youngsters out for profit," he says.
Faced with the highest number of mountain gorilla deaths in 15 years, Steklis and Rwanda's Parks Department have stepped up daylight protection by rangers of the animals' habitat. So far their efforts are paying off. "The gorillas we monitor are safe—and the females are giving birth every month," says Steklis. But he warns that the species' survival is inextricably tied to the political future of the region, which is still struggling to solve a massive refugee crisis. "Rwanda needs international help to structure a lasting peace," he says. "If successive cycles of war and genocide are allowed to continue, both the humans' and gorillas' ability to survive will clearly diminish."
Breathing the sweet air of freedom
After 11 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit, Ronald Cotton embraces life on the outside
"I'm coming along very well. It's lovely," says Ronald Cotton, with the full smile of a free man. It has been nearly six months since DNA evidence proved, after he had spent 11 years in a series of prisons, that Cotton had been unjustly convicted of two rapes. Right after he was released, the 34-year-old resident of Gibsonville, N.C., found it frightening to be among crowds, so he stayed close to his sister's home. Though he's still there, he says, "I'm in the process of getting out on my own." Cotton has spoken at local schools and at the University of North Carolina about his ordeal. "They was wantin' to know why I didn't have bitterness," he says. "But I told them to look at life in a positive aspect."
He seems to be taking his own advice. Cotton, who has been pardoned by North Carolina's governor and may win restitution of $5,000 or more from the state, has a new job as a forklift operator for LabCorp, the Burlington, N.C., company whose DNA testing helped exonerate him. He takes home $200 a week—"better than the 40 cents a day I used to make," he says. He met technician Robbin Wilson, 34, whom he has been dating for two months, on the job. The company is paying for him to pursue his high school equivalency degree; they will also finance a college education if he wants it. And, as befits a man who's going places, Cotton has a brand-new driver's license—and a silver Toyota to go with it. "My life," he says proudly, "is getting back on track."
From senseless tragedy, sight
Donating a daughter's cornea helps a family grieve
The first call that Tom and Becky Sander received on Feb. 21 was devastating: Their 14-year-old daughter, Annette, had killed herself in a suicide pact with Jennifer Powell, a classmate at Victor Valley High School in. Victorville, Calif. Two hours later they got another call—from the Inland Eye and Tissue Bank in Loma Linda—asking if they would donate Annette's organs. "As soon as Tom asked me I said, 'Yes, absolutely.' How could we not?" Becky Sander says. Six days later, Beatriz Garcia, 4, who was born with glaucoma, received one of Annette's corneas in her left eye. (Annette's other cornea and her heart valves went to unidentified recipients.) It was the 10th operation for Beatriz, whose parents had moved from Mexico to the U.S. three years ago. She is scheduled for a second cornea transplant in the next year. "I am so grateful," says her mother, Juana. "They have given my little girl a chance to see. Now if you ask Beatriz who helped her to get cured, she says, 'Annette.'." And the Sanders say Beatriz has helped them take a step toward healing. Last month, when they met her on The Montel Williams Show, "Beatriz walked up to me and gave me a kiss," says Becky. "It was like a part of Annette was still alive."
Eat my space dust, Paddington!
Magellan the traveling bear is a beast with a mission
Boldly going where no blue bear has gone before, Magellan T. Bear soared into space with the shuttle Discovery in February, orbiting Earth 129 times. It was only one high point for Magellan, who has been impressively beari-patetic in the 32 months since Penny Wiedeke, then a library media specialist at Elk Creek Elementary School in Pine, Colo., decided a bear on the go would make geography and science come alive for her students. Named after the 15th-century Portuguese explorer, Magellan has covered many more miles than his namesake—and racked up more photo ops as well. "We tell kids that Magellan had a dream, and their dreams can come true too," says Wiedeke, who, together with former Elk Creek principal Jerry Williams, shows a Magellan slide show at schools around the country. There are shots of the cuddly traveler helping to inaugurate Denver's new airport, baking bread in Vice President Al Gore's kitchen and even lounging at the White House, where he spent a night last fall. Next month, Magellan is off to the South Pole with NASA scientists. "Wherever we go," says Wiedeke, "we introduce him as Colorado's ambassador of friendship." Take that, John Denver!
Triumphing over a deadbeat dad
Marilyn Kane helps other mothers in need, as her ex-husband, Jeffrey Nichols, leaves jail, pledging to pay up
It took six years of tireless pursuit, but on Dec. 7, Marilyn Kane, 47, finally got what she wanted. "Psychologically, this is closure," she told PEOPLE when her ex-husband, Jeffrey Nichols, was released from a Bronx detention center after agreeing to pay her some $500,000 in back child support. To ensure compliance, he has been ordered to appear in court monthly; if he doesn't follow through, he will return to jail. Kane's long road to justice began in 1990 when Nichols, 47, a precious metals consultant, stopped paying support for Josh, now 23, Julie, 20, and Joseph, 15, and went on to enjoy a lavish lifestyle with his second wife, Suzan (who died of cancer last summer). Kane notified child-support agencies as Nichols fled from state to state. Last August in a New York City courtroom, Nichols pleaded poverty but was ordered held until he agreed to pay up. For her part, Kane hit the lecture circuit. "She's an inspiration," says Monica Getz, chairman of the National Coalition for Family Justice. "She speaks out against a system that is rascal-friendly rather than family-friendly." Kane, who owns a Manhattan real estate firm and is remarried to insurance broker David Kane, says she is touched that "many mothers came out in the rain to hear me speak, holding their babies, desperate to find what they could do. That feeling of helping is something money can't buy." But the money won't hurt. Nichols has agreed to sell his $500,000 Vermont estate and give Kane's family a portion of his future income. "He lived for years off money belonging to his children," Kane says. "I want restitution."
Ty, no longer high
After a humiliating drug bust, country's Ty Herndon has cleaned up his act
It's the sort of thing that happens in country music songs all the time: someone lets someone down real bad, then begs to be taken back and forgiven. In Ty Herndon's case, though, it happened in real life. When his debut single, "What Mattered Most," made it to No. 1 on Billboard's country charts last May, it looked as if the rugged, 33-year-old Texan was two-stepping on the up escalator to country stardom. Then, on June 13, Herndon was arrested in a Fort Worth park for indecent exposure and possession of a controlled substance—2.49 grams of methamphetamine. Although the indecent exposure charge was dismissed, the incident was nobody's idea of a smart career move. Yet Herndon's fans, his wife, Renee, 33, and his record label stood by their man. In June he went into rehab for his drug problem, and now Herndon—who was fined $1,000 and sentenced to community service on the drug charge—is rehabbing his career. He attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and talks to a therapist every week. And in October, at the Country Music Radio Awards in Nashville, fans voted him Best New Artist. "After my arrest, I worried about my ability to be a role model," Herndon says. "My grandmother told me, 'I don't know of any role model who started out as Snow White.' "
The O.J. bit players
Brian "Kato" Kaelin
"I'm not judge or jury," he says. "I'm, like, a very small part of this." But that hasn't stopped the nation's most famous houseguest from capitalizing on his notoriety. After a few film and TV gigs, Kaelin, 36, is now a disc jockey at L.A.'s KLSX-FM. "I've got a parking spot," he says. "Incredible." Also 100 pieces of mail a week from fans, who sometimes stuff in bras and panties. "I think it's because I'll be on the cover of Playgirl," says Kaelin, who posed for the January issue. "But I'm not naked." Yet Kaelin, who has had no contact with Simpson or the Browns, says that even he sometimes regrets his loss of privacy. "I was just there in the guest house," he says. "I never asked for attention."
Kato the Dog
By all accounts, he was the only living witness to the murder of his mistress. Yet, says Nicole's mother, Juditha, despite being "depressed" when he first came to live with the Browns in Dana Point, Calif., the 2-year-old Akita now runs on the beach and romps in the backyard with her grandchildren, Justin and Sydney Simpson. "Life begins for him when the kids come home," says Juditha. "He brings them a toy as soon as they come through the door." Of all the members of the family, in fact, Kato seems the least traumatized by the ordeal. "I love him dearly," says Juditha. "But I can't believe people are worried about him."
He was once a member of O.J.'s inner circle, but that didn't dissuade Shipp, 43, from giving damaging testimony as a prosecution witness. Still, his conscience is clear: "I have no regrets at all. Not one," he says. "I prayed over this thing." The retired LAPD veteran still works at an L.A. property-management agency. Since the verdict, he has had two chance encounters with other trial principals: Judge Lance Ito, with whom he shared a laugh, and—at a USC homecoming game—Simpson pal Al Cowlings. "Our eyes met, and we looked away," says Shipp. "We all made choices. I can live with mine. I hope he can live with his."
The O.J. trial's star limo driver turned down A Current Affair's $60,000 offer for his story because, as he told a local paper, "I never felt right making a profit off of two people's deaths." Park, 26, who now works as a delivery driver, says he won't cash in on his renown. And the Catalina Island resident, who is single, is not planning a book about his experience. Instead he loosens up his writing arm signing autographs as "Allan Park, the fastest ride you'll ever get to LAX."
She has survived drug rehab, the murder of her best friend and micro-scrutiny by the press. But a chance encounter in October with several former members of the Simpson jury proved almost more than Resnick, 38,
could bear. "One said if they'd known then what they do now, they wouldn't have voted not guilty," she says. "I started crying." Resnick has written two books in the aftermath of Nicole's murder, but lives modestly with daughter Francesca, 11, in L.A. The founder of a support group for battered women, Resnick now attends church twice weekly to reclaim what she calls "the will to go on. I don't see sunny days the way I used to."
Laura Hart McKinny
If there was one moment that changed the course of the Simpson trial, it was when this whispery-voiced screenwriter testified to a hushed courtroom that her taped interviews with LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman included a deluge of racial epithets. But McKinny, 44, now teaching screenwriting at the North Carolina School of the Arts, is stung by criticism that she tried to sway the verdict. "She's been unfairly vilified," says a student. And, despite six-figure bidding, McKinny refuses to sell her evidence. "I don't know how many times I have to say it," she says. "The tapes are not for sale."
In the tiny Salvadoran village of Sensuntepeque, the Simpson trial's most reluctant witness remains adamant. "I do not want an interview," Lopez, 50-something, told a reporter, slamming the door of her concrete-block house. Though the former maid hopes one day to return to the U.S. to be near her grown daughter, for the time being she seems content. "She makes tamales to sell for the church," says a friend. "She is hardworking and happy."
This boy's life
Since the courts placed nature over nurture, Baby Richard has started over
He loves Burger King hamburgers, Batman and Nintendo. He laughs easily and is learning his letters. And he hates to leave his biological father's side. This is the picture painted by Otakar Kirchner, the unemployed restaurant manager who with his wife, Daniela, regained custody of the small boy known to the world as Baby Richard after a harrowing court battle with Danny's adoptive parents that ended last January. Raised since birth by Jay and Kim Warburton, of Schaumburg, 111., Danny was taken to the Kirchners' Mokena, Ill., home eight months ago. He played with neighborhood children at first, but now he stays mostly indoors, and Otakar, saying that he wants to "protect" the 4½-year-old from inquisitive classmates, has elected not to send him to preschool. "He's a family-oriented soul—he's not even interested in going out," adds the Czech-born Kirchner, 39, who cares for Danny while Daniela, 28, now pregnant with the couple's second child, works as a beautician. "He can't wake up without me, go to sleep without me—he doesn't want to do nothing without me. He's hooked on both of us. It's hard to believe, but it's true."
To date, Kirchner has refused to make good on his promise to allow Danny's adoptive parents visits with him. "He does not mention them at all. I want him to forget the whole thing," says Kirchner. Recently, however, he agreed to negotiate a series of meetings between Danny and the Warburtons' son John, 8, whom Danny knew as a brother, but that process, too, has stalled.
The Warburtons, for their part, have not given interviews since handing over Danny to the Kirchners. Their supporters, including Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, continue to fear that his abrupt removal from the only home he had ever known will leave lasting scars. "It seems wrong to assume he's doing all right by his smile," says Greene, who has written many columns on Danny since the start of the legal battle. "No one knows what's going on inside him."
An aging beauty queen fights back
Staci Baldwin gets to keep her tiara
For most people it's crow's feet or gray hairs that signal the first loss of youth. For Staci Baldwin it was a phone call last May. Crowned Miss Washington U.S.A. just three weeks earlier, Baldwin was told by pageant organizers that after her 27th birthday, on June 11, she would be too old to reign. That meant she would have to turn in her tiara, forgo all prizes and withdraw from February's Miss U.S.A. contest. But the tax auditor and Seattle Seahawks cheerleader refused to age gracefully. She sued the pageant for $1 million, claiming that she had been within the 17-26 age range stipulated by the state pageant and had not been told about the national requirements. "I wasn't going to walk away from my dream," she says. In November a Seattle court agreed, ruling that Baldwin could keep her title and compete to be Miss U.S.A.—although it was no-go on the $1 million. But the money may not matter much. "I've gotten so much media exposure," says Baldwin, who now has an agent to help her pursue her acting goals. "Win or lose in February, I'm heading for L.A."
A war of restitution
Fifty years after World War II's end, Germany finally pays its due to Holocaust survivor Hugo Princz
Europe, jubilant and liberated, celebrated VE-Day in 1945, but for Hugo Princz, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi death camps, the fighting did not end until this past Sept. 19. It was on that day that Princz, 73, one of only a handful of American citizens to have been imprisoned during the Holocaust, learned that after 40 years of legal lobbying, he had persuaded the German government to award him and 10 others a $2.1 million settlement as recompense for their suffering.
In 1942, Princz, the son of a naturalized American father, was taken, along with his parents, two brothers and a sister, from their small Czech town to a series of concentration camps. That the Princzes carried American passports made no difference: By war's end, Hugo was the only one of more than 80 relatives to have survived.
Years later in the U.S., where he immigrated in 1946, Princz found that his U.S. citizenship made him ineligible for the stipends Germany had begun giving to Holocaust survivors. So began his protracted legal battle with the German government, a crusade in which he was eventually joined by President Bill Clinton and members of Congress. When word finally came of his victory last fall, "Chills went through me," says Princz, who later spoke at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol. "I almost broke down."
Today, Princz, who has three grown children and lives with his wife, Sissy, in Highland Park, N.J., has sold the screen rights to his story. He has cut back to working two days a week at his local Jewish community center and is thinking about using his windfall to take a trip to Florida. "Finally, I can move on with my life," he says. "I didn't have it so easy the last 45 years."
A long streak of ladies' luck
Watch out, Warren! The Beardstown Ladies still Buffett the Market
The ladies of the Beardstown (Ill.) Business and Professional Women's Investment Club are well-coiffed and genteel, but they could give lessons to the fabled bulls of Pamplona. In the last decade the 15 women, who started out by investing $100 each, have been running wild, averaging an investment return—23 percent—that puts many professionals to shame. Their market strategy, The Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide, became an instant bestseller when it was published last January, and one of their members, Maxine Thomas, 75, received a marriage proposal after appearing on the Today show.
The club, organized in 1983 by former bank customer-service rep Betty Sinnock, 63, still meets on the first Thursday of every month. The ladies' stock portfolio has continued to grow—by 21.5 percent—in the last year, and their book remains entrenched on the Business Week bestseller list. Now that they're famous, the group's thrice-yearly open meetings draw a crowd—often as many as 100 people, from as far away as Texas. "They're very interested in why we've picked a stock and why and when we determine to sell," says Sinnock. "It's a bit overwhelming."
But satisfying too. The ladies appear at investment seminars around the country, and when they're greeted with standing ovations, "we know just how Garth Brooks feels!" says Sinnock, who recently recorded a radio ad for the New York Stock Exchange. Club members will tour to promote their new book—The Beardstown Ladies' Stitch-in-Time Guide to Growing Your Nest Egg—in January. Bachelors hoping for pillow-talk stock tips should not get any ideas. Says Thomas (whose marriage proposals, including one from a doctor in Australia, now stand at 10): "I'm sure they're all in fun—but I'm not interested."
Acquitted, but still at sea
Charges of sexual harassment threaten to throw Navy Capt. Everett L. Greene's promising career off course
At 48, Capt. Everett Greene, the first black officer ever to become an elite Navy SEAL, was well on his way to joining only five other African-Americans on active duty to reach the rank of admiral. Then, last fall, Greene earned a distinction of a different sort: He became the highest-ranking Naval officer to be court-martialed since World War II.
Married and the father of three, Greene denied the allegations of sexual harassment and fraternization brought against him by a junior female officer, and in October a military tribunal cleared him—sort of. The following month, Greene learned that, despite his having been exonerated, his promotion to admiral was now in serious jeopardy. True, the cards and poems he had sent to Lt. Mary Elizabeth Felix, 28, were not flagrantly suggestive, but they were "unduly familiar," says one former Navy commander. "That's a big deal in the military." At year's end, Greene, a commander at the Navy's amphibious base in San Diego, was preparing for a last-ditch meeting with Navy Secretary John H. Dalton to salvage his promotion. "I'm hoping to win back the Secretary's confidence," Greene says. "I'm optimistic."
Hopes fade for missing TV anchor Jodi Huisentruit
Her heart in her throat, Imogene Huisentruit stayed close to the phone on Nov. 6, the day she turned 72. But her youngest daughter, Jodi, who has not been seen or heard from since she disappeared last June, never called. "She wouldn't miss my birthday," says Imogene. "I kind of believe she's gone."
Intuition may be the only proof she ever gets. On June 27, Jodi, a popular 27-year-old news anchor at Mason City Iowa's KIMT-TV, failed to show up for work. Police later found her red sports car—keys and shoes strewn nearby—in the parking lot outside her apartment. With help from the FBI. they launched a full-scale search, but to date there have been no solid leads. "I want to believe she'll walk in that door," says Doug Merbach, news director at KIMT, where now-bedraggled yellow ribbons still festoon the station. "But I struggle to speak of her in the present tense."
Still, they work to find her. A local anticrime organization is offering a $32,000 reward for tips leading to Jodi's safe return, and one of her two sisters will appear on the syndicated show Psychic Detectives. "We have to do all we can," says Jodi's best friend Amy Wahl, who has organized fundraisers to pay the private detectives who have joined the search. "Jodi would."
From a washerwoman's rags, riches
Thanks to Oseola McCarty's Southern generosity, many young minds won't be going to waste
A For nearly all her 87 years, Oseola McCarty lived just three miles down a dusty road from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. But she never once visited the school—not, that is, until the reception held in her honor on Aug. 29, when 1,000 university faculty and staff greeted her with a standing ovation. That was just one of the accolades bestowed on the former washerwoman after news broke last summer that in the course of 75 years spent laundering other people's clothes in her backyard, McCarty had managed to save $250,000—and was donating $150,000 of it to create a scholarship fund for African-American students at USM.
Since then, the school has raised $75,000 in matching funds. And McCarty, who never went beyond the sixth grade, has been feted at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner (where Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson and Muhammad Ali lined up to shake her hand), interviewed by Barbara Walters and presented with the nation's second-highest civilian award by President Clinton at a ceremony in the Oval Office. "He was great," says McCarty, who came home with a brown paper bag containing a pen the President had used during the ceremony. "And I went out sightseeing on the bus. We saw all them Army tombstones and things."
When she's not accepting awards, McCarty putters in her modest woodframe home ("I got too old to work," she says), watches her secondhand TV and sees her new friend, 18-year-old USM freshman Stephanie Bullock, the first recipient of a $1,000 Oseola McCarty Scholarship. Will she mind when her celebrity fades? "I like it just fine," McCarty admits, "but whenever they gets ready, I'm ready."
Ho! Ho! Ho! Arf! Arf! Geronimo!
What's a nice dog like Brutus doing in a dive like this?
You too, Brutus? You're on a star trip? Why, just yesterday—actually it was in August—you soared through the air with the greatest of fleas, er, ease, an unspoiled dachshund who loved to skydive. But after' your smiling face appeared in PEOPLE, life changed. "My dog's world-famous," marvels Brutus's owner, Ron Sirull, a clerk at a Chandler, Ariz., tool company. "He's gone global—it just blows my mind." The duo has appeared on Dateline NBC and Inside Edition as well as in magazines around the world. Sirull, 38, is negotiating with a firm that wants Brutus in an ad campaign for canine heart medication, and German TV is panting for the pup. "Germany and dachshunds—they're like the American eagle over there," Sirull explains. Brutus, 9, is having his gray hairs tinted to suit his new status, and he has even taken up charity work: Sirull recently entered him in the pet therapy program at a local nursing home. Of course, Brutus and Sirull continue to skydive in tandem. Brutus has just logged his 58th jump—which would have been No. 59 if Sirull didn't have standards. He refused to let Brutus dive—in costume—to promote the transvestite movie To Wong Foo...."I'm careful about his dignity," he says. Brutus is a dachshund, not a dragshund.