Polio hits close to home

By John Carr
Posted 11/3/09

Growing up in Fort Lupton, 10-year-old Kay (Collins) Sears never thought her dad was different from any other father. He loved his family, was a successful farmer and businessman. It wasn’t …

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Polio hits close to home


Growing up in Fort Lupton, 10-year-old Kay (Collins) Sears never thought her dad was different from any other father. He loved his family, was a successful farmer and businessman. It wasn’t until her friends asked her what was wrong with her dad that she realized he wasn’t like other parents.

He had polio and could not use his arms or hands.

At age 17, James “J.L.” Lee Sears was an example of America’s future. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall, and life on the farm had made him a strong, confident man. He loved sports and dreamed of going to college to be a veterinarian.

All that changed dramatically for J.L. when the otherwise healthy young man suddenly fell seriously ill. His family rushed him to a Denver hospital where he was diagnosed with polio. Sears spent nearly eight weeks in isolation and four months in a special hospital ward. When J.L. was able to return home, he was not the same.

Polio is a virus that attacks the nervous system and most often leads to paralysis. Sears lost all use of his arms and hands. At the time, doctors predicted he would only live to the age of 50.

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Kay (Sears) Collins is no stranger to success. As principal at South Elementary School in Brighton, she was chosen as Colorado’s Principal of the Year in 2008. She speaks of her father with the reverence and love any daughter would have.

“Dad was a very proud man,” she expressed. “He would not let his disabilities get in his way of living a full life and being a success. Not only did he expect success for himself, he insisted on the same from my two brothers and me. We owe a lot of what we are today to his example.

“Polio kept my father from doing things for himself, like eating and bathing, but it never slowed him down,” Collins added. “His mother was a saint. She was by his side all of the time before he got married. When dad decided to become an auctioneer, my grandmother went with him to school. She cooked for him and took care of him and attended every class, keeping notes for him.”

After returning to his Keenesburg farm from the hospital, J.L. Sears decided he would not let polio get him down. At the age of 18, he convinced a local banker to loan him enough money to buy the farm next to his parents. Sears set out to turn the fertile land into a successful farming operation. With the help of his parents, he modified a farm tractor so he could operate it without using his hands. He operated his farm until his parents retired.

Sears graduated from auctioneer school and went on to become one of the Front Range’s most successful auctioneers, working until he retired for the Erlich Auction Co. After spending a few years in the auction business, Sears also started his own real estate firm. Once again, success followed. His company became a major player in local real estate. J. L. Sears Realty and Associates is still well known around Fort Lupton today.

Sears was not only a success in the business world he was a shining example as a family man. He embodied strong Christian beliefs that he fashioned his life around. He married his childhood sweetheart, LaVeda Smith, a 1950 graduate of Brighton High School, when he was 25. Together, they raised three children who have become successes in their own right.

“Dad always looked at a problem with an eye towards fixing it,” Collins added. “When dad read about an inventor in California that had rigged up a car that could be driven with the driver’s feet, he ordered one of the kits.

“My father was one of the first people in America that could drive a car without using his hands,” Collins continued. “Dad also improvised many other day-to-day things, such as typing with his mouth and an ability to answer the phone and dial it without using his hands.

“Dad embraced technology,” Collins said. “If he had been able to use his hands, I think he could have been a pioneer in the computer industry.”

Even though Sears’ doctors predicted he might only live to the age of 50, he fooled everyone once again. James “J.L.” Sears survived to the age of 79, passing away in December.

“Polio once again played a major role in my father’s life as he got older,” Kay Collins said. “As he got older, his body started to deteriorate. Breathing became very difficult, and many of his muscles faltered. It became very difficult for dad to move around as he once had.

“But as he always had, dad didn’t let polio defeat him,” Collins added. “My father loved the computer. It enabled him to do things he always cherished. Until he passed away, he was the author of a weekly e-mail. He sent his ‘Monday Morn’ out to hundreds of people around the country. After he passed away, our family got notes from people we didn’t even know who had been touched by dad.”

Collins said her father never felt sorry for himself.

“Even as he knew he was dying, he continued working for the benefit of others. He spent his days contacting senior citizens in the area on the phone just to make sure they were OK and had someone to talk to,” Collins said. “That was Dad. It was one of the reasons we all loved him so very much.”

Oct. 24 was Polio Awareness Day across the world. The effort to eradicate polio is a fight still taken up by Rotary Clubs across the world.


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