Jadav Payeng decided to help his local environment when he was a teenager. His solution was simple: plant a tree. He continued his plan; his actions helped a forest flourish and reversed the effects that global warming had had on his home island. Payeng proved to be a shining example of how one man can make a difference and inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
When Jadav Payeng was 16 years old, he noticed that his home was changing. The island home of Majuli near the Brahmaputra River in eastern India was disappearing due to deforestation. Over the past 70 years, it has decreased to half of its size because of soil erosion. Snakes were dying due to excessive heat and the lack of vegetation. Payeng saw their bodies washing up on the island’s sandbar and knew he had to take action.
Jadav Payeng began planting trees in 1979 when he was part of an activist group. He continued after the project ended and perfected his process to cultivate the environment. For almost forty years, the area grew to become its own forest. The region is now 550 hectares, which is larger than Central Park in New York. It has been called the Majuli Forest, and Payeng has been given the nickname “The Forest Man of India.”
A new forest was not the only thing that changed — wildlife has returned to the area. A herd of more than 100 elephants visits the island every year. There have also been Indian rhinoceros and endangered Bengal tigers spotted in the forest.
Jadav Payeng’s incredible drive to help his home island has earned him global recognition. He has also won a prestigious citizen award in his home country. Thousands of people have been inspired by the Forest Man of India, and they have tried their own efforts to help their own environments.
After 70 Years Of Marriage…No One Expected This
“They say love is the best investment. The more you give, the more you get in return,” said Audrey Hepburn. Leonard and Hazel Cherry have proven this to be true.
Before The Unthinkable Happened
Leonard and Hazel were always inseparable. They met in high school, and it was clear to all their friends and family that this relationship was one of the good ones. Years later, Leonard was struck with dementia, and her son later found out – Hazel wanted to do everything in her power to keep the marriage going.
Both born and raised in Texas, Leonard and Hazel lived just a short drive away from each other. Although they were not exactly acquainted having lived in different, small, adjacent towns, fate had another idea coming. By the time high school was around the corner, the two finally came into each other’s lives. Their connection was instant and natural, as they started off as friends and took things slow. But there was no denying there was something more.
It Was Only A Matter Of Time
Falling in love never felt easier. These high school sweethearts were head over heels and started planning the rest of their lives together. The love they shared was an inspiration to everyone who knew them, so it was just a matter of time until they decided to tie the knot. In 1942, that time came and Leonard and Hazel walked down the aisle and vowed to love each other until death do them part – but they had no idea what they were saying.
They Were An Odd Couple
Indeed, 1942 was the year Leonard and Hazel began their joint life together, one that was filled with mutual respect, undying love and true happiness. While most couples sought some time apart and focused on prospering as individuals as well as pushing through in their relationships, Leonard and Hazel made a note to dedicate every single moment to being together. They spent every waking moment with one another – and not out of obligation, they just valued their time and wanted to spend it together.
His Life Was On The Line
They were so inseparable, the only times Leonard and Hazel were apart were when they had no other choice, when Leonard joined the Army Air Corps during WWII. Stationed at the Carswell base, Leonard was a man of honor and respect, meaning that although he had to leave Hazel behind, he knew it was time for him to serve his beloved country – something he would not hesitate to do even if it meant putting his own life at risk.
Separated By Force
Being a natural born leader, during his time in the military, Leonard helped to train many young pilots. Except helping the lesser experienced, Leonard was primarily a bomber pilot and during World War II. He worked on numerous bases throughout the war while Hazel waited for him at home. Towards the end of the war, it was time for him to think how he was going to return to his wife. Instead of fearing the transformation, Leonard said he was looking forward to it.
Up In The Air
Leonard was part of the United States Army Air Corps, which was officially active between 1926 and 1942. Originally an auxiliary branch that supported ground forces, the air force became more and more integral to the army’s military operation, especially going into World War II. But even though the war lasted until 1945, the USAAC technically remained part of the Air Forces until 1947. At this point, it was abolished and the Department of the Air Force was officially established.
The Base Became His Home
During his time in USAAC, Leonard’s rank was as a B-24 bomber pilot. For a large part of his service, he was stationed at Carswell Army Air Corps Base in Fort Worth. It was here where he would train others how to fly aircraft and use its heavy machinery. These days, the original base is part of what is now known as the NAS JRB, or Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base. Several Navy headquarters are also based at the NAS.
Victory Finally Arrived
The 30th of April, 1945 marked the official military defeat of Nazi Germany, with an unconditional surrender being signed on the 7th of May. The Allied Forces had triumphed, but for Leonard, his job wasn’t over. In preparation for a fully armed invasion of Japan and an effort to destroy the Japanese war industry, the pilot was trained to fly a B-29 bomber. However, before he was deployed, the war had officially been brought to an end.
Returning home safe and sound, Leonard and Hazel began thinking about starting a family. It seemed like the most instinctive, reasonable next stage in their lives, but also as though it would help them reconnect after losing precious time together. Both adored children and were such easy going individuals, it was clear that they would make amazing parents. And soon after, their first born David was born in 1944. The couple were blessed with a bundle of joy, but this was only the beginning.
Life Changing Decisions
Soon after David was born, the three moved to Fort Worth, Texas. The Cherrys had to come up with an innovative and profitable plan that would support them financially as well as enable them to bring up their newborn child together. Then the ultimate idea popped in their heads – why not start a family business together? It seemed so simple, they did not know why they didn’t think about it before. The only question now was what kind of business it would be.
Blood, Sweat And Tears
After weighing out the options, Hazel and Leonard decided to kickoff their first business together – an auto repair shop called Cherry Hill. Since Leonard was such a skilled man, he could work at all sorts of jobs, but he wanted a job that would enable him to get his hands dirty and take advantage of the high end training he received when serving in the army. Cherry Hill would turn out to incredibly successful, and here’s why…
Decades Of Success
While Leonard acted as the hands of Cherry Hill, Hazel was the face. The pair complemented each other perfectly to provide a service that proved to be indispensable to their community. If you wanted your car repaired, Cherry Hill was the place to go. If your brakes needed fixing, you would consult Leonard and Hazel about the matter. Cherry Hill was their crown jewel and proved to be hugely successful. But after they closed the shop in 1980, something felt different.
As time passed and their only son David grew up and started a family of his own, big changes came to their lives. Since their business was closed, the Cherrys knew the time had come for them to start the next stage in their lives. In order to make a fresh start, Leonard and Hazel relocated to Woodway, a sleepy Texas town with a population of less than 10,000 people. This way, they were closer to their son and grandkids.
They Taught Them Everything They Knew
It was ideal. Both Leonard and Hazel were older then, so it was only logical they would move to a place they would feel most comfortable in, and one which would allow them to spend as much time with their family as possible. There was something else about these two that made the family grow closer. The fact that Leonard and Hazel wanted to spend every second with one another as well projected on their family’s perspective of what family life should look like.
The Life And Soul Of The Party
They never ceased to have productive lives, being active members of their community. For a long time, Leonard acted as chair of the Board of Deacons at North Ft. Worth Baptist Church, where he also taught at its Sunday School. In his free time, Leonard took great pride in his woodwork skills and enjoyed making furniture. Also, he was a keen player of golf, eventually training his son at a ranch in Valley Mills, Texas.
Around The Clock Care
Throughout the many years of their marriage, the Cherrys never fought, said David at an interview he gave People magazine in 2016 – “They never really spent a day apart unless it was for a family emergency or something. And I never heard a cross word between them. I never heard them raise their voices to each other unless they were calling across the yard. They didn’t fight!” This was especially evident during their move to Woodway, but then the unexpected happened.
Above And Beyond
Yes, the pair were so close that they rarely spent a day apart throughout their lives. In addition to absolutely adoring their grandchildren and great-grandchildren – the kids adored Leonard and Hazel right back. It was hard not to, what with Leonard showing up to each and every one of his grandson’s basketball games. In addition to coming to all of the games, Leonard showed up to almost all of the practices, too. He made sure his grandkids knew he loved and supported them.
Life Was Well Until…
Both Leonard and Hazel were always so supportive of their grand and great grandchildren – “The kids just adored my parents, they had such a special relationship, they were so close and came to all of their school events,” David recalled in his People interview. “When my son was growing up, dad came to all of his basketball games,” he went on to say proudly. It seemed as though life couldn’t get any greater, but then the most devastating news hit the Cherry family.
They Just Couldn’t Believe It
The Cherrys were delivered utterly heartbreaking news. Tragedy struck as Leonard was diagnosed with dementia. Having this new revelation knocking on their doorstep, Hazel needed to find a way to cope with her husband’s illness. Giving up was not an option, not for this couple who were together since puberty, who swore they would stick by each other through thick and thin. Hazel thought of a plan to make the best of Leonard’s situation, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Clinging On To Whatever She Could
Dementia is a broad category of brain diseases that cause a long term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember. That very same decrease in the ability to think is great enough to affect a person’s daily functioning, as other common symptoms include emotional problems, problems with language, and a decrease in motivation. On the brighter side, dementia means that a person’s consciousness is usually not affected by the brain disease, which for Hazel was just about everything she needed to hear.
Globally, dementia affected about 46 million people in 2015. It is important to keep in mind that about 10% of people develop the disorder at some point in their lives, and that the disease is easily associated with old age, as it is more common among the elderly. In 2013, dementia resulted in about 1.7 million deaths, but as more people are living longer, dementia is becoming more common in the population as a whole. It is one of the most common causes of disability among the old.
Change Was Due
The couple was very happy living in Woodway. It was the very place they have made memories with their friends and family that would last a lifetime. Woodway felt as though they had finally found a home guaranteeing to make all of their dreams of a whole, healthy and happy family come true. Unfortunately, like many other older people, Leonard began showing signs of mental disability, that meant his life required serious adjustments – one of which was bound to be his living arrangement.
A Woman With A Plan
Leonard would have to move to a care facility situated in the city of Waco. No longer was Hazel able to take care of her husband, as he required around the clock care. It was difficult for Hazel to accept the fact that her husband’s health was deteriorating at such a rapid rate. She felt completely helpless. Therefore, her way of handling the situation was making sure they would not break their pact of seeing each other every day.
Hazel began by visiting Leonard on a daily basis. She found out what his medical routine was like, assisted with his care and talked often to his doctors and nurses, attempting to gather as much information as she could about his state. Hazel might have clung on to the hope that Leonard would get better with time, but eventually realized this just wasn’t going to happen. Being realistic about his situation, Hazel decided to take things into her own hands.
Not Giving Up
Hazel spoke to the administration of his care facility and nudged the right people. Eventually, she was given permission to move into an independent living facility in the same building as Leonard. This meant that Hazel could visit her husband every single day and stay with him for as long as she wanted to. She cared tirelessly for Leonard, staying up with him all night, holding his hand and reassuring him throughout much of his illness – she attempted to give him strength.
Important She’d Stay Close
As David explained to People Magazine, “She was with him every day and ate lunch with him in his room. There was no question that their love was always there.” And truly, Hazel made a note of being there for her husband at all times. Every now and then Hazel would regularly drive to the grocery store to pick up some food and basic necessities, but she made a habit of not being gone for too long.
Life Goes On
Although she was constantly urged by her family to continue living her own life, it was hard for Hazel to go on as if her other half was fine. He was her best friend and love of her life, Hazel forgot what living without Leonard was like – and she didn’t want to remember. Leonard was slipping – his health was deteriorating at a steady pace, each day seemed more difficult for him to manage. But then, the most unexpected, crushing occurrence happened.
Hazel wasn’t a worry on anybody’s mind. She seemed in perfect health, taking care of her husband and constantly running errands from one place to another. She was always very independent and never sought to owe favors or be dependent on anyone else, which was why it seemed odd at first when she moved into the facility. David said “Mother had been driving around town and still going to the grocery store… but Dad’s health had been failing for some years.” Unfortunately, that soon changed.
Tired And Weak
At this point, Leonard was 95-years-old and Hazel was 93-years-old. Yes, they were both at old age, but Hazel seemed to be fine – at least, she appeared to be fine in the beginning. Suddenly, her health took a turn for the worse. Her entire family stood by helplessly as they noticed their beloved grandmother wasn’t doing too well. David said “She started getting tired and weaker.” David saw his mother slowly losing life, and he was devastated.
No One Saw It Coming
While her husband’s health went downhill in the later years of his life, Hazel passed away suddenly in October 2016. “She started getting tired and weaker and on the day she passed, she couldn’t get out of bed,” David explained to People. “My daughter was talking to her when she blinked, smiled and let go.” Hazel’s unthinkable sudden death shocked the entire family. One thought was hovering above everyone’s minds – how were they going to break the news to Leonard?
Leonard’s mental state was not at its clearest, but he had to be told what happened. The family couldn’t bear to break the news to him, but it had to be done. Calling the health center where Leonard was staying, the family was then told the most unforeseen news of all. Leonard’s caregiver at the facility said he was restless, feeling uneasy and as though something ominous has happened. Although David was alarmed by these news, the caregiver then went on.
All At Once
Feeling troubled was not all. Leonard had passed away – only hours after his beloved Hazel died, apparently. Although no one told Leonard of what happened, it was almost as if he knew. The caregiver explained that after Leonard seemed unsettled, he suddenly became calm at once. After that, Leonard took his last ever breath on Earth. “I’m not sure how it worked, but he knew what happened,” David said. “He had a connection… He could feel it.”
It was like he did not want to leave Hazel alone in the world. What makes this whole story even more peculiar is the fact that Hazel had always had good health, but only went she turned 93 she suddenly began to get very tired and weak. She was even taken to the emergency room, but died just a week after she had begun showing signs of sickness, as though she was trying to cling on to life for Leonard’s sake, too.
“They had so much love for each other,” added David. “No question, they are both up above, smiling… They’ll always be together.” The family paid tribute to the couple following their deaths. All said how reassuring it was, knowing they both parted the Earth and joined heaven together. They continued to be an inspiration for the family, who said that up until their last days, Leonard and Hazel seemed more in love than ever. Then David got up to speak.
Love Like No Other
Less than nine hours after Hazel died, Leonard took his last breath and passed away at the age of 95. Family members were baffled by the fact that the lifelong sweethearts passed away within mere hours of each other, but there was no denying it. David later admitted to believing that the two had such a strong connection that Leonard, before he died, could sense that his wife had passed away, and that’s when he decided to let go, too.
Losing Both Parents
For a couple who had spent every possible minute together their entire lives, it was the perfect way to go. David was trying to deal with the loss of his parents in the best possible way, but it was hard. He said he takes comfort in the fact that perhaps divine intervention played a role in their simultaneous passing away. David also claimed that the ending is exactly what the couple would have wanted – “It’s what God wanted, and I think it’s what they wanted too.”
David Was Done
Saying his parents will be sorely missed by all who knew them, David opened up in front of all in the memorial service being carried out close to their home – “It’s kind of hard you know, you can’t pick up the phone and call them anymore.” he said. “The more I began to think about it, I began to smile because of how much they loved each other.” He tried to keep it together, but then sighed with relief when he said the next words.
Letting It All Out
One of the most difficult things that ever had to be done, but David explained how deep down, he was relieved that his father isn’t suffering anymore. Despite the sadness and pain of losing him, no longer did dementia have a hold of his dad’s body – “I feel blessed that Daddy’s suffering is over, and I feel blessed that Mom is with him and that she didn’t have to live alone,” he said to CNN in 2016.
David remains the only living and breathing proof of their love story. David’s son Craig said that they taught him how to love all people. Meanwhile, he believes that the couple will meet once again in the afterlife. “There is no question in my mind that my grandmother was waiting for him in heaven with open arms,” Craig Cherry told Fox 6 News. While their family will miss them greatly, they know Leonard and Hazel are smiling down on them from above – together, just like always.