Monthly Archives: September 2012

Fight for Julian

A/N: September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and this article was originally published in the Sept. 19 edition of the Lititz Record-Express

Julian Sperduto is a blue-eyed toddler who watches “Little Einstein” from beginning to end in one sitting, eats solid foods on his own (his favorites are pizza and ham loaf) and loves cars.

The 21-month-old Lititz boy has Stage IV Wilms tumor, a rare form of kidney cancer, and has spent the past four months in and out of the hospital and is currently fighting for his life.

His parents, Jason and Mandy Sperduto, have been doing everything they can to help save him before time runs out.

“You just don’t want your kids in pain. If we could take this cancer from him, you wouldn’t have to ask us twice,” said Mandy. “Absolutely without question. Anything for him, all the way down to our life.”

Yesterday, doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia removed his right kidney and the tumor, but according to his mother, Julian’s road to recovery is going to be long and rough.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen after,” said Mandy.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 500 new cases of Wilms tumor are diagnosed in the United States each year. Most Wilms tumors are unilateral, meaning that they affect only one kidney, but five percent of children have the cancer in both kidneys.

There’s no clear cause, but symptoms include swelling or hard mass in the abdomen or stomach, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, constipation and blood in the urine.

Stage IV of the disease indicates that the standard treatment is surgery followed by radiation to the abdomen. Julian, who will be two on Thanksgiving Day, has a favorable histology, which means the chance for a cure is very good. More than nine out of 10 Wilms tumor have a favorable histology.

However, doctors have recently found that the four modules or tumors in Julian’s lungs have grown from ¼ to ½ centimeter. This latest news has shocked his parents.

“We are just as scared as when we heard that he had Wilms tumor,” said Mandy. “We really thought this round of chemotherapy would work.”

Julian was about 16 months old when his parents first noticed that his stomach was swollen. He had also developed a low-grade fever, which lasted for about four days.

Mandy repeatedly took him to the pediatrician, who told her he had nothing serious.

“We noticed that he didn’t want to play much. He just was off. Something wasn’t right,” she said.

Then, in another trip, Julian had bloodwork and a chest X-ray done, and the results came back that he had bronchitis.

Meanwhile, his pediatrician was concerned about Julian’s high white blood cell count. After examining his urine sample, the doctor believed that he also had a urinary tract infection.

“They gave him 10 days of Amoxicillin. He was getting this Amoxicillin, and they said that his counts seemed to be getting better,” said Mandy.

In reality, Julian’s health was getting worse.

A couple weeks later while putting Julian in the bathtub, Mandy and Jason discovered that his stomach had increased in size again. The next day, on Friday, June 1, Mandy found blood in Julian’s diaper, and she immediately called the doctor again.

Because the regular pediatrician wasn’t available at the time, Mandy and Julian saw another doctor in the same practice. The doctor told a very different story.

“He had seen him, and immediately said, ‘You’re going to leave and you’re going to get an ultrasound. By the time, you come back down, I’ll have the results of the ultrasound.’ So we went to get the ultrasound done, came back,” said Mandy. “By that time, Jason was able to meet up with me and we were in the office and we sat down and he said, ‘There’s a mass on Julian’s right kidney, and the radiologist believes it’s Wilms Tumor.’”

The Sperdutos didn’t realize Wilms tumor was cancerous until they came home later that night and did research on the Internet.

“I don’t think we slept that night. We stayed up all night, researching Wilms tumor and that’s when we’ve seen the word ‘cancer’ and realized it was kidney cancer,” said Mandy. “The doctor did not tell us that. They said he had a tumor in his kidney.”

Not only did they research about the history and success rate of the disease – there’s an 80 percent chance of survival – but they also looked up hospitals that offered the best treatment care for children with Wilms tumor. CHOP became their number one choice since their success rate for children with Wilms tumor was in the 90th percentile.

“The doctors won’t give percentages,” said Jason. “I think the more you know, the less you speculate. Ignorance breeds fear.”

The family was initially supposed to get a call from Penn State Hershey Medical Center to schedule a CAT scan appointment on Monday, but they decided not to wait. They wanted to get a second opinion.

The next day, Julian and his parents headed to CHOP.

“When we researched CHOP, we thought their success rate was a bit higher. Also, they have new, cutting edge things there,” said Mandy. “We thought though Hershey is a great hospital, we thought CHOP might be better for our son in the cancer aspect of it.”

Julian’s CAT scan was done on the day they arrived on Saturday and three days later, he had a biopsy. His biopsy sample was then sent to a specialist in Chicago that focuses on kidney cancer, which ultimately confirmed that Julian had Stage 4 Wilms tumor. Meanwhile, the CAT scan resulted that the cancer had spread to his lungs.

Prior to his surgery, Julian has been getting a series of chemotherapy treatments and lab tests done every other week at a CHOP outpatient specialty care office in King of Prussia.

The frequent medical appointments has required Mandy to quit her job as a school bus driver in order to take Julian to King of Prussia or Philadelphia at least five days a week. A week of chemotherapy costs about $125 in gas.

“We have a week which is usually admission to the hospital because he usually gets sick, and then we have another week where we usually have to go back to King of Prussia to do testing,” she said.

The Sperdutos said the staff at CHOP has taken great care of Julian.

“The hospital, as a whole, has been very nice,” said Jason.

But from his attentiveness and funny personality, one would never know how much Julian has been forced to endure because of his illness.

“He’s very happy, playful, curious, and very smart,” said Jason, who works in carpet cleaning restoration.

“He’s really funny. He’ll do things. He’s so serious and then music will come on, and he’ll start dancing,” said Mandy. “He looks normal. You wouldn’t even know he had cancer. If you look at him, he looks like a normal toddler with no hair.”

Julian will be on chemotherapy for another year. His parents have been frugal on their spending since Jason is the breadwinner right now. They’ve had to cut their grocery bill 60 percent because most of the items needed are bought for Julian.

“I am buying soup. Julian is different. I am buying everything he needs,” said Mandy. “His PediaSure is $10.99 for a six-pack, a pack a week. He has to drink a PediaSure a day. It helps with his weight gain. We buy him that and diapers.”

Mandy hopes to go back to work in November for Premier Designs Jewelry, a direct sale jewelry company, in order to help pay for their daily expenses.

“I don’t want people donating money to us thinking that we have these astronomical medical costs,” said Mandy. “My husband’s job doesn’t cover all of our expenses, plus mortgage, plus car payment, plus credit card bills. I want people to know that.

The Sperdutos have had a strong support system that has helped them ease their difficult situation. Their extended families have supported them emotionally. Mandy’s bus employees have given her an EZ-Pass to help with the cost of turnpike tolls as well as hot food once a week to the house.

A few women from the Lititz United Methodist Church have also expressed interest to bring food as well, but now according to Mandy, it’s getting to the point where they’ve had to say no.

“I’m like, ‘You can’t’ because I don’t have enough room in my freezer because it’s only Jason and I and Julian. We don’t eat all the food so we freeze it so it doesn’t go to waste,” said Mandy. “I tell them, ‘You have to wait until I can afford a stand-up freezer so you can bring more food.”

Mandy and Jason are very humbled and grateful by the amount of support that they’ve received from the community even though they feel they don’t deserve it.

An anonymous person sent them a $100 gas card, and they’ve received an $800 donation from a local family who has dealt with cancer and other medical problems. The couple was overwhelmed by the donation that they wanted to donate half of the amount back to the family, which in return they refused.

“It’s unbelievable how many strangers are helping out,” said Jason.

Last Friday, Dianne Fussaro, a friend of the couple, organized a Premier Designs Jewelry fundraiser at Lancaster Catholic High School, where 100 percent of the proceeds went to help Julian and his parents.

Fussaro said when she found out about Julian’s cancer, she immediately had to act.

“The first thing I said to Mandy was, ‘Let me do this for you,” she said. “This is the only way I know how to raise money is by having a jewelry show and inviting as many people as I know.”

Fussaro said Mandy and Jason, whose first son Landon died two hours after his birth two years ago, are great role models for Julian.

“They’re fabulous parents. This little boy is the light of their life. They’ve been so strong through all of this and fighting for him all the time,” she said. “I’m amazed how much stamina they have, taking him to chemotherapy and the next week he’s back in the hospital.”

Mandy and Jason have their eyes set on a bright future for Julian, hopefully witnessing him doing good things in the world.

“I just want to see him grow up into a smart, healthy man who maybe has a hand in curing childhood cancer,” said Jason.

An account has been set up called “Julian’s Cancer Fight,” where people can donate money at any Citizen’s Bank branch office.

There will be a pasta dinner fundraiser at the Brickerville Fire Hall on Sunday, October 14 from 4 to 7 p.m.

“I’m not thankful that he has cancer, but I’m thankful that he has a curable cancer,” said Mandy. “But we still fight for him.”

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Published articles


It was quite a run for hometown Galen’s

A/N: The following was originally published in the Sept. 19 edition of the Ephrata Review. For more information, visit

As rows of clocks chimed in unison to mark the beginning of the hour, Don Schwarz walked out of Galen’s of Ephrata for what would be one of his final times.

“It’s a shame,” said Schwarz, of Ephrata, who bought a Howard Miller clock last Thursday. “It’s a small community. There aren’t many mom and pop stores anymore.”

For shoppers who didn’t receive a postcard in the mail several weeks ago announcing Galen’s “Going Out of Business/Retirement” sale, they sure have gotten the memo now as yellow signs clutter the storefront indicating that after 63 years of retail service, everything must go.

Owners Mike and Edith Amico have received many notes from their longtime customers sadly thanking them for their superior customer service over the years.

“They’ve been very good, very supportive, very sad. A lot of them are quite sad because we’re closing. They’ve said, ‘Now where can I possibly go to buy appliances if you’re not here anymore?’” said Mike. “I know why they say that because we always had pride in how we handled our customers. We took good care of them, had the proper service, quality delivery.”

Barbara Keffer, of Lititz, who has shopped at Galen’s since its days at the Lincoln Mall on West Main Street, agrees.

“(The employees) were very pleasant and friendly. They don’t try to push you to buy something,” she said. “It’s a nice experience.”

The decision to close was not an easy one for the Amicos as they kept their customers and 45 employees in mind. Their lease will expire at the end of November. Renewing their lease for another 10 years at its 389 North Reading Road location was out of the question and selling the business would be difficult so it was ruled out.

“We thought that now was the time for us to retire,” said Mike.

Many of its employees have worked at the store for many years, and most of them understood the reason behind the decision. Advertising manager Ruth Daniels plans to retire as well, after working at Galen’s for 30 years. She said the Amicos’ foremost concern was for her fellow co-workers.

“They’ve provided a good place for a lot of the employees over the years,” she said. “It’s been a good place to work.”

Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen said the Amicos have made a positive impact in the business community.

“The Amicos have been very friendly with Ephrata Borough and happy to be part of the Ephrata store,” he said. “I wish them good health in their retirement.”

There’s no final day of sale at this point, and no rush to sell its products from the store.

“It’s like a family leaving,” said Larry Herrold, of Lititz.

In addition to having longtime customers coming through the doors, the final sale is also attracting some first-time shoppers. Carl Schenskie, of Denver, moved to the area from Philadelphia six years ago. Last Thursday, he stepped foot into Galen’s for the first time after finding out about the sale in the newspaper. He was looking to buy a new dehumidifier.

“I have seen small stores close in Philly,” he said. “With small stores, the salespeople know what you want.”

Secrets to Success

Over the years, Galen’s has gained long-standing traditions that have helped the business soar to success. First, according to Daniels, the Amicos have developed a reputation of being hands-on in the store.

“It didn’t matter how good the ad looked or how great the prices were. Edith did as much good for our sale when she’d be down on the sales floor to talk with all the customers,” said Daniels.

“We’ve enjoyed it, and we both didn’t mind to work,” said Edith.

Second, the retail business created generations of customers. One longtime customer wrote a note saying that he remembered shopping with his dad as a little boy and got his first Silly Putty for 99 cents.

“It’s such a tribute to Galen’s. I think that a lot of our customers are kids of customers,” said Daniels.

Many years ago, Galen’s had done a survey on what brought people into the store. The options included The Shopping News ads, television and radio ads, newspapers, and other.

“Other would always win because ‘other’ was ‘my family always shopped at Galens,” said Daniels.

Lastly, the salespeople have maintained a dexterous ability to stay ahead of the game with its furniture and appliances. The employees have seen how the Internet has changed the ways customers buy merchandise.

“It’s so much easier for them to get so much information from the Internet before they come into the store …the customers come in much more educated, so you can’t be somebody off the street and be successful as a salesperson or in a store like this,” Daniels said. “You have to really be on top of your market.”

“We had a bunch of super employees,” said Mike. “They contributed to building the business over the years.”

The Face Behind the Name

James E. Galen was an established community activist when he founded his eponymous store in the fall of 1949.

Born in Lancaster, Galen was instrumental in setting up Ephrata Borough’s Christmas celebration, which included putting up decorations and having Santa Claus come to town. He was the president of the Ephrata Farmer’s Day Fair Association from 1945 to 1947 and of the Ephrata Kiwanis Club, and started the Key Club at Ephrata High School in the early 1950s.

But it was his business sense that truly shined.

“He was a visionary type businessman,” said Ephrata Borough Council President Dale Hertzog.

In the late 1940s, Galen had 16 years of retail experience under his belt and was the manager of the former Sears department store in downtown Ephrata.

Deed records showed that he and his wife Romaine Tracy bought the former Hunt’s Hardware, which was located at 1438 W. Main St., from the late Oram and Sara Hunt, and renamed the store. In addition to hardware products, the store sold housewares, sporting goods, and some appliances. In the early years, Galen’s also had a big floor covering department.

In 1966, a devastating fire completely demolished the original site, which was then replaced with a one-story building. According to Mike Amico, the fire was started in an oil furnace in the basement.

Mike first gained appreciation for Galen when he traveled with him to a Chicago business show in October 1969, and he witnessed first-hand how Galen bought various products.

“He was a True Value store, and I never experienced anything like that. I was very much impressed,” he said.

Galen retired from the business in 1972 and died from a long illness on Jan. 18, 2002.

“He was a great guy. We were friends for years,” said Edith Amico. “We went on vacation with them. He and his wife were very, very good people.”

The Amico Purchase

By the time 1970 rolled around, Mike was a merchandising manager for the former Hess’s Department Store and had worked for many years in department stores in Lancaster. Yet he and his wife wanted to have their own business.

He had heard about the news of Galen retiring and decided to give him a call.

“I made an appointment one evening and wanted to see him. We sat down in his office, and the first thing he said was, ‘Mike, I gotta tell you I just got an offer today. Somebody in New Jersey that I was really thinking I was going to take (the offer). So I’d like to interview you,’” he said. “So we talked awhile. He asked me some merchandising questions. Then he said, ‘Mike, I am going to tell you something. I’m going to call this guy back in New Jersey and tell him no.’ He said, ‘I really like you, and I’d like you to have the business.’”

After the acquisition, the Amicos kept the Galen name and remained at the original site.

“That’s why they call me Mrs. Galen,” joked Edith.

They expanded their business five times between 1974 and 1980, adding lines such as clothing, linens, domestics, greeting cards, school supplies, health and beauty aids and carpeting. In 1974, Galen’s added a complete line of General Electric appliances and televisions.

“As the months went on, we had a lot of opportunity, and we took advantage of it,” said Mike. “Baby clothes were the first clothes we added on.”

In 1975, the Amicos added a U.S. Post Office sub-station in the store, and it has remained a Galen’s tradition to this day.

“Michael saw that downtown had no parking, and we had all that parking, so people loved it. Lots of people come here now for the parking,” said Edith. “We hear it a lot now, ‘What are we going to do for postal?’ because customers don’t like to go downtown that much because of parking.”

Pat Shober, of Ephrata, has been shopping at Galen’s for three years and enjoys going to the postal sub-station.

“It’s convenient, and the parking is good,” she said.

Though it’s unclear how much mail gets processed in the store, Mike said the number most likely is high.

“I was told years ago that as a sub-station, we were in the top numbers. In fact, it was larger than some post offices in the county,” he said.

Ephrata Chamber Board President Michele McHenry, whose business Laser Labs is located at the same address of Galen’s inception, said the store was well-represented and respected in the community.

“For me, it’s bittersweet. They’ve been a longtime supporter of the community. They’ve brought value to customers. It’s a great place to go get a deal,” she said. “It’s always nice supporting local business rather than big box stores.”

Move to the Lincoln Mall

By 1983, the Amicos couldn’t expand anymore because they outgrew their store in both space and parking.

Mike received a store visit one day from John Martin, founder of Martin’s Country Market in Ephrata, who would eventually solve his problem.

“He told me what he was going to do to the (Lincoln Mall). A small complex down there and asked if I would be interested. I said, ‘Yeah, I would be. I’d like to hear more about it,’” he said.

The Amicos moved Galen’s down the road to the Lincoln Mall location and into the 42,500 square foot space, where they stayed for 19 years.

Sally Holmes, of Reinholds, has been shopping at Galen’s since she moved here from England in 1986. She remembers shopping for clothes and shoes at the Lincoln Mall.

“I used to buy women’s clothes, towels, linens, and gifts. Their baby department was adorable,” she said. “When they moved (to its current location), it was a bummer because they didn’t have the clothes anymore.”

Relocating to North Reading Road

By 2002, clothing and linens were two lines that didn’t make the cut when Galen’s relocated again to the 32,600 square foot, former Pharmhouse site on North Reading Road. According to the Amicos, the buyers’ market had changed at that point, and they had no room to place the clothing department at its current location.

“Some were really shocked that we didn’t have the clothing department,” said Mike.

The move marked the start of a $5 million renovation project, which currently houses a purple and gold painted circular sales counter that serves as a focal point and six terminals to process customer transactions. The current store continues to sell electronics, appliances, furniture and bedding.

In addition to the post office, Galen’s has also kept the tradition of selling dog licenses.

“If you were new to the Ephrata area, and you were trying to think what store in the area would sell dog license, you really wouldn’t think of Galen’s,” said Daniels. “At this point with the mix of merchandise that we have, it’s a carryover from what Galen’s was.”

Mowen names Galen’s as part of a trifecta of important local businesses, alongside Doneckers and Sprecher’s Hardware, leaving a mark in the community.

“It’s a sad time for us all. Galen’s has been a part of Ephrata for most of my life. I put the closing up there with losing Sprecher’s Hardware. Both businesses were part of Ephrata for a long time,” he said. “Depending on the merchandise, we always looked to Galen’s first.”

Edith said she hopes to keep in touch with her customers after the store closes.

“When we go retired and we have a lot of time, we will visit them all,” she said. “That’s what I say all the time. I’m going to visit everybody.”

In the meantime, the Amicos would like to thank their many local customers for shopping at Galen’s over the years.

“We are sorry to say good-bye,” said Mike.

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Published articles