By Michael Howell
Senator Jon Tester made a visit to Washington Middle School in Hamilton last week to offer some words of encouragement to Mrs. Gray’s first grade class about facing and overcoming life’s challenges. Tester told the students that, with fortitude and a positive attitude, challenges, like missing three fingers, can be overcome. Although it may limit what a person can do in some respects, it does not necessarily stop you from accomplishing great things, like becoming a U.S. Senator, for instance.
Tester came to talk to one person in the class in particular and, after addressing the whole class, went out in the hallway to have a one on one talk with seven year old Ethan MacPherson. Ethan was born missing three fingers on his left hand. Tester lost three fingers on his left hand when he got his hand accidentally caught in a meat grinder, so he knows first hand some of the difficulties that young Ethan is facing.
Tester and Ethan sat down at a desk out in the hallway and put their left hands on the desktop and Tester spoke directly to the boy saying, “You may not be able to dribble a basketball to the left or play a clarinet,” Tester told Ethan, “but those are small things compared to all the other possibilities. You can be anything you want to be.”
Ethan’s mother, Amber Mattern, said that she and her children just moved to the valley from Idaho in November. She said at his former school that Ethan had some difficulty dealing with his classmates and the constant questions about his hand. As a result, she said, the teacher, who had a damaged finger, had Ethan come up before the class and they talked about their problems before the whole class to try to stem the constant flow of questions.
“I think it did some good,” said Mattern, “but Ethan found it all a bit overwhelming and said he did not want to go up in front of the whole class to talk about his hand this time.”
Then the school’s secretary, Janelle Hansen, who knew that Ethan was having difficulties and also knew about Tester’s hand, got the idea that the Senator might be able help. Everyone was surprised at how quickly Tester responded.
Tester, who is a former elementary school teacher, said that he likes to try to meet every month with kids of all ages.
“These guys are the future,” he said.
Ethan’s mother expressed deep appreciation for Tester’s visit and said she believed it would help her son a lot.