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The Story of Larry Bird, ALS and the creation of Songbird Artistry by Debbie Jacknin

Songbird Artistry was opened in honor and memory of my late husband and my daughter's (Jacklyn Juliar and Jenn Orefice) stepfather, Larry Jacknin. This is the story of how knowing Larry led to Songbird Artistry.

Before we were Songbird Artistry, we were Jenn's Jems with a booth at the now defunct Pittsburgh Public Market. Located in Pittsburgh's district, it was run by a nonprofit group. Booths were inexpensive, and they curated an excellent variety of food and nonfood vendors. We were thrilled that they chose us to be a vendor.

The people running the market had great ideas, but made a few bad decisions, including opening in a location which was on the market. They were forced to more, and we decided not to move with them.

Larry, Jenn, and I had an emotional conversation. When we realized that Larry could no longer work, we revisited the decision to be a part of the Public Market. We didn’t have faith in its success, but Larry had worked his whole life, and the idea of not having something to do was disconcerting. A booth in the market would give him a place to go and something productive to do. Jenn, who had moved from NYC back to Pittsburgh, could help us run the market.

The comment that really hit home was when Larry pointed out that if/when something happened to him, I would have the business to continue giving my life meaning and provide me with an income.

The odd thing about ALS is that it does not follow a set pattern or timeline, and each person's trajectory is a little different. We knew our lives were constantly going to change, but we didn't know how. In the summer of 2014, Larry started to have trouble breathing and swallowing food, and he ended up in the hospital for about a week. He was weak from being in the hospital, When we returned home, I called Marie at the ALS Association Western PA Chapter. Within a few hours, she was at our home with a raised toilet seat, and she talked to us about all the ways they could help us.

They had a grant which paid for a caregiver to help Larry a few days a week. The worker came to our home, helped Larry get ready, and drove him to the Market. I enjoyed a few hours to myself, and Larry enjoyed creating art and running the booth. We had a great time. We met great people, many of whom are still in my life.

Larry and I made a very conscious choice to live life. He had ALS, but the disease would not define who he was nor what he could do. Larry stopped working in January 2014 and the first thing we did was take a dream vacation to Israel. He is shown here, wearing a shirt Jenn designed and printed for him.

His oldest daughter, Gabrielle, was married in Colorado, and we were fortunate to attend her wedding. Getting there was complicated, but isn't that true of most important choices we make? The smile on Larry's face captures the joy of our being there and shows the importance of the journey.

At one time or another, both of us wanted to work as artists, but life and the need to make a living often got in the way. This was our time to live that dream. In the 2-year period from the time he stopped working until he passed on, we created over 50 stained-glass mosaics, and made sure each family member had one.

When I tell people my husband had ALS, they often say they are sorry and picture very rough years. No doubt, we had hurdles, but they did not stop us from living our life to the fullest. Larry and I spent two winters in Florida. Larry loved to fish. I would help him put the lure on his fishing rod, always hoping he would not catch anything. I did not want to have to take the poor fish off of the line!

We explored beaches, museums, and sold our mosaics at galleries and festivals. Among our favorite places were Sanibel Island, Lovers Key State Park, and Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. We took many photos which we turned into stained-glass mosaics.

When we left Pittsburgh in 2014, Larry was walking; by the time we left Florida, he was confined to his wheelchair. We owned a ranch style home with a few steps. Once again, the ALS Association Western PA Chapter helped us out. They have a loan closet for items not covered by insurance. They lent us 4 ramps and made sure they were installed before we returned to Pittsburgh. Everyone who worked there was kind, compassionate, and helpful. We could not have navigated the disease as effectively without them. Even after Larry passed, they reach out to me to offer support programs and check on me.

In 2016, while we were in Florida, the Public Market failed. Jacklyn and Jenn began to would look for a brick and mortar place which they would run. In February, Larry took a turn for the worse and passed away, putting all plans on hold. I came back to Pittsburgh and was now in a position to work. Jacklyn and Jenn had seen our current location and pictured all the things that could happen in the space – a place to shop, a place for classes & events, and a room for Jacklyn’s vintage. We envisioned an inclusive place where all were welcome, so we rented the space.

I know that the best way to honor Larry's memory is to live my life to the fullest. While we were dating, Larry and I went to the beach with a friend of mine. She and I chit-chatted away while he quietly stood near us, creating a pastel of a bird looking out at the ocean. I told him the bird reminded me of him - enjoying life in his own little world yet happy that loved ones were near. He signed the picture Larry Bird and that became my nickname for him.

Larry is the artistic songbird that watches over Songbird Artistry.

Knowing Larry made my life better. I am grateful to be where I am today. I have found my wings and I fly freely. Larry helped me find those wings.

You can help us honor Larry's memory:

  1. Shop - 20% of sales through April 29 will be donated to ALS Association Western PA Chapter.

  2. Shop in person at our anniversary weekend - 20% of all sales will be donated to ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter.

  3. Are your finances tight? We understand, and you can still help! Tell your friends about our fundraiser. If you are on social media, like and share our post.

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