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Jean Kimble helped find a lost friend because that is what you do in York

Tuesday afternoon in a room at Piedmont Medical Center, the Forde family jammed in and talked about faith and their daddy.

"God is watching out for him," Ronnie Forde said of his father.

Isabelle Forde - married 52 years to Lester Forde Sr., the 75-year-old patient who is the daddy - kept doing the same thing with her right hand.

Holding up the hand up to her face, the forefinger extended upward, then downward in a sweeping motion.

Sign language. The sign for "Lord." Then she signed "thanks."

Thanks to the Lord, she said - over and over.

Isabelle Forde is deaf - and so is her husband. The husband in the bed with the family around him, he watched the sign for "love" next.

He lay there with feet darkened and damaged by frostbite and a family that loves him.

And he smiled - a lot.

Because Lester Forde on Tuesday afternoon was alive.

And Forde is alive because of a neighbor who knew him for decades, watched his kids grow up, and did not take a nap Saturday afternoon before dark.

"We had an angel named Jean Kimble come to help, with her daughter, Kathy, too," said one of Forde's daughters, Lisa Williams. "How else can you describe it?

"Angels, directed by God."

Jean Kimble could have stayed home Saturday, after a day of shopping, when she heard that her old friend was missing. But the Forde kids all grew up around the same time as the Kimble kids, went to school with them.

They all lived around the long-closed Cannon Mill in York. She knew Lester Forde worked at that mill so many decades ago, a master loom fixer who, because he was deaf, could feel a machine and know what was wrong with it.

"I just closed my eyes a second and put myself in his shoes, and thought about it," Kimble said.

She and daughter Kathy - like so many from York churches and the police department and fire department and more - wanted to help. The Kimbles found out Forde was driving a gray 2006 Ford Fusion by going to the Forde home and asking.

"We couldn't just not do anything," said Kimble.

Kathy drove. Jean Kimble directed Kathy north from the Kimble home on Charlotte Street, down to the next intersection - to a street, dead-end Morton Street, that decades ago was a cut-through to the mill toward the opposite side where the Fordes live.

"He might have gone that way," Kimble thought to herself Saturday. "There was two ways I would have gone, if that was me."

Even though Lester Forde couldn't hear or speak, he always had a smile for the Kimble kids - especially Tommy.

Tommy, one of seven Kimble children, is now 36. He has Down syndrome and still lives at home. He is always out in good weather, on a three-wheel bicycle that is one of his trademarks.

When one bike was stolen three years ago, the community responded with hundreds of bike offers and got Tommy a new one.

"People always looked out for Tommy, and after the bike, even more," said Jean Kimble. "Around here, you look out for your neighbors, people you know. You help when you can, how you can."

Neighbors who live around the Kimbles have, for years, kept an eye out for Tommy. When Tommy is riding, all of York was, and still is, watching out for him.

So that was Jean Kimble on Saturday, as darkness beckoned. They found the car, at the end of the old cut-through.

"We were afraid," Jean said. "I looked in that car and he wasn't in there and I was afraid for him, scared. But I knew somehow that he was nearby. I knew he needed help."

Kathy called the police, told them they had found the car. A few minutes later, officers found Forde, a couple hundred feet down the fence line, near a little pond. He was cold and frostbitten - but alive.

Since Saturday night, Forde has been at the hospital surrounded by family. He told them, through sign language, what happened. He told them about how it was dark and how it was so cold and how he prayed and prayed and even called out so many times in a grunting shout.

But he stopped because he saw dogs and was afraid the dogs would attack him in the dark.

"Daddy thought he turned off Charlotte Street onto Hall Street to come home," Lisa Williams said. "Hall Street is the next block from Morton Street. He went down too far, couldn't back out, then when he got out he couldn't find his way back to the car.

"He just got confused, is all."

Confused, in the dark, when he could not hear. Lester Forde relied on a half century at Central Baptist Church, and faith, to get him through the night, then the next day. The temperatures were below freezing at night.

"Daddy can holler some, he just can't speak," said Lester Forde Jr. "The dogs scared him. He said he slept some, then prayed and prayed."

After his father was found, Lester Forde Jr. said, following a day of frantic looking by all of the family and so many others, he took a shower.

"I turned the hot water off, so it was only cold, to see what Daddy had to deal with," Lester Forde Jr. said. "It was unbearable. He wouldn't have lasted another night out there in that cold."

The family talked of how so many in York had helped look, and how in the end, an old family friend had found Lester Forde Sr.

The name "Jean Kimble" was said, over and over. A chorus of "angel" came from the family members.

Back in York Tuesday afternoon, Jean Kimble, her husband of 55 years - also named Lester - and their son, Tommy, sat in the living room.

Jean Kimble had this to say about her actions, and her thoughts and memories, that saved a man's life.

"Wasn't anything but being neighborly," she said. "Friendly. I can't wait to go see him at the hospital Wednesday."

No doubt Lester Forde Sr. will give the universal sign for love to Jean Kimble - a hug.

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