'Celebration of Courage' Draws Brave and Generous

John Zimmerman knew all about courage.

He had it when he fought muscular dystrophy for most of his 15 years. And he had it when he told the President of the United States about his dream: to become an honorary Marine and be buried at the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific near Honolulu.

The Fountain Valley boy gained national attention in 1985 when President Reagan granted his dying wish. He became a Marine and the second civilian in U.S. history to be buried in a military cemetery.

On Saturday night at the fifth annual "Celebration of Courage" at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers, there were others who have demonstrated John's kind of courage. Robert Castro, for one. Diagnosed at age 18 with a neuromuscular disease, Castro has spent 25 years working for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. For his tireless efforts, he was named recipient of the 1989 John Zimmerman Memorial Award at the dinner and auction, which raised more than $50,000 for the local chapter of the association.

"For me, courage is just living," said Castro with a big smile. "I love life and I live it every day. If that's courage, that's courage. I'm not going to give up. I'm never going to give up.

"It takes courage to live. And lots of things are easy for others that take extra effort for people with muscular dystrophy. But for me, it's worth it. I have a wonderful wife, two wonderful kids and a great daughter-in-law."

To those who are feeling negative about their lives, Castro, 52, advises: "You're doing yourself a disservice, losing out. And you'll be alone eventually. You can't be down and expect people to want to be around you."

But, Castro said, it takes more than the person with muscular dystrophy to have courage. "It takes the whole family. The mother, the father, the sister, the brother. The friends. Those people need to have just as much courage as the people afflicted with muscular dystrophy."

After a cocktail reception and silent auction, guests settled down for dinner and live auction bidding. During the festivities, comedian Jerry Lewis--chairman of the national Muscular Dystrophy Assn.--telephoned from Las Vegas to encourage guests to bid.

On the scene: L. Wayne Oliver, recipient of the association's John Zimmerman Community Service Award (Oliver is a vice president of ITT Corp., which staged a golf tourney last spring for the association that raised $100,000); Emma Jane and Orange County Supervisor Thomas Riley (a retired Marine general, Riley said the secret to being a great Marine, like John, was "the belief that the Marine Corps is the finest organization in the world"); Dixie and Major Gen. Donald Miller, and Sandy and Richard Zimmerman, John's parents. Ronni Richards was emcee. Gordon Bowley was auctioneer.

Also on the committee: Chuck Bennerm, Elinda Duff, Bob Engen, Gere Gastineau, Glenn Leibowitz, Jeff Pierce, Linda Speranza, Mike Stiles and John Weeks.

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