Turning a loss into salvation
LAKE PLACID - Gene Pollard grew up in Lake Placid with four siblings in the frame house his dad built. His dad, Sidney, was a heavy equipment mechanic and his mother, Myrtle, had Lake Placid’s only flower shop. The family came from the area. They were simple people who didn’t live beyond their means but their faith kept them strong and happy. A big part of their lives revolved around the church they attended, Church of God in Lake Placid, now called Placid Temple of God.“We were raised by the best two Christian people who walked on the face of the Earth,” Gene said. It’s not a surprise then that Sidney and Myrtle Pollard would turn one of the biggest losses in their lives into something positive for strangers they would never meet. Even now, Carol Pollard, Gene’s wife, tears up when she talks about it. It’s a story that began when a 20-year-old from Lake Placid left to go to the Vietnam War in 1968. Sidney “Jerry” Pollard would never return, killed by friendly fire three months after his tour of duty began. Gene was 18 at that time, a senior at Lake Placid High School. Jerry was the older brother, the jokester trying to find his way in life, who Gene always tagged along with. When Jerry’s body returned home, the first time the family saw him was in the casket at the funeral home. It was the first and the last time Gene remembers his dad crying. Gene thinks it could also be the first time Lake Placid lost one of its own in the Vietnam War. Almost half the town attended his funeral. But the pain of losing him never went away for the family, Gene said, only comforted by a legacy his parents created in his name. Most of the money Sidney and Myrtle received after Jerry’s death went to keep his memory alive in two churches they built, in Africa and Honduras, and others they helped repair. Gene had always talked about this to Carol, but four years ago she started to do some research to find out if the two churches were still standing. One church was constructed in Dilolo in Zaire, Africa. A picture shows a mud building with the townsfolk waving at them. Carol said she couldn’t track down this church, but the second one built on a remote island in Honduras is still standing and is providing “light” of a different kind to the people of Helene. It now houses the generator that brought the first electricity to Helene in 2008, Gene has learned. When the original church outgrew the building, they built another one, four times the size, just walking distance away. When Helene got the “Pollard Memorial Church” more than 40 years ago, it was replacing a church building that termites had ravished with a storm completing the destruction. “We are very anxious to get this building up because they have no place to worship,” stated a letter from a Honduras mission. This time, they made sure the foundation was made of cement and part of the walls would be cinderblock to keep out the termites. That correspondence is one of many things of Jerry’s that Gene and his family has still kept, along with pictures of his days in Vietnam, his dog tag, his eight military medals, his childhood pictures and others of him with family. “God’s work is never finished with those who give,” states an email from Larry Benson, a Helene contact that Carol managed to track down. Gene and Carol agree. “My brother died on the battleground for the people of Honduras,” he said simply. “I now know why my brother died.” The family has talked about their brother’s memorial for many years but has never shared it outside its immediate circle. Only a few years ago did Gene tell one of his uncles. It’s also the first time they are publicly sharing their story. “Through my brother’s death, many lives and souls have been fed, healed and saved by the Word of God,” Gene wrote in a write-up for Highlands Today. “I am so proud of my parents, Sidney and Myrtle Pollard. Simple people with a huge heart for sharing the word of God. I get emotional every time I think of this. It is close to my heart. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share with people the type of parents I had.” One day Gene hopes to see for himself what still lives in the name of the older brother he lost too soon. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer and one of the things on top of his “bucket list” is flying to the island of Helene and placing his hand on the building that still bears a plaque in Jerry’s memory.