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Ned Calvert, Janie Moore, Isabel Martinez, Michele Fuller, David Dean, Julie Brock, Richard Magrill, Charles Dixon, Nanci Whatley, and Le Ila Dixon pose in front of Mighty Max a tank truck of the Woodlawn VFD featured in a new book: Mighty Max and the Hurricane.

The Noon Optimist Club of Marshall met Wednesday, Jan. 29, in Hutchins Hall of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Marshall. President Le Ila Dixon convened with the ringing of the bell and led in prayer followed by the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag and the recitation of the Optimist’s creed.

Optimist Le Ila welcomed all to the meeting, especially David Dean and Nanci Whatley. She noted that today Oprah Winfrey is 65 and that this is National Cookie Month (cookies were provided to eat and to share).

Optimist Richard Magrill introduced our speakers. David Dean served 37 years with the Marshall Fire Department and currently volunteers as chief of Woodlawn VFD. He recently authored Mighty Max and the Hurricane. Nanci Whatley taught art in Marshall ISD for 36 years and collaborated with David to realize her “secret dream...to illustrate a children’s book!”

David shared how Mighty Max the Woodlawn VFD fire truck got his name from Max Matlock, a junior firefighter who is currently in remission from but still fighting the effects of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Mighty Max was originally the title given to Matlock by his friends of the VFD. Then, one day during a benefit for him by the firefighters at Woodlawn, they brought a big high-wheeled water tanker and parked it along US. 59 to attract people to stop and join in the benefit. That in turn led people to confuse the “Mighty Max” sign out that day (referring to Matlock) with the truck and it was later christened “Mighty Max” in his honor.

Before David had begun to share the story of the book, he reminded us that we might hear his phone ring, calling him away to a fire. Sure enough, as he showed pictures of the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey and recounted Houston’s call for high-wheeled trucks to help with its flooding, David’s phone rang; a brush fire had gotten out of control and help was needed. When he was assured that Woodlawn responders were on their way, he resumed his pictures but at a more urgent pace.

Woodlawn firefighter, Tim Morgan, volunteered to drive Mighty Max south to help Houston. That 2017 trip and its photos inspired the book. David wrote it up intending to use the photos, but he quickly realized that he needed an artist to do the illustrations.

Enter, Nanci Whatley, who lives in Woodlawn, only a few miles from Mighty Max the truck and who taught Mighty Max the junior firefighter in art class for two years. Nanci shared boards which juxtaposed photos of the Houston adventure and Woodlawn VFD details with her finished illustrations. “I enjoyed the challenge of making sure the details were incorporated and correct,” she said.

“The book was,” David said, “a collaboration that with one step forward and two steps backward finally resulted in Mighty Max and the Hurricane” — an inspiring story of people rescued (along with their beloved pets) and of help given to the U.S. Coast Guard in towing its boats and trailers through flooding roads. And, it is a story of little Woodlawn’s 1200 gallon ex-military truck received through the Texas Forestry Service, lending a hand in a time of need.

To the delight of all present, David was able to drive Mighty Max down from Woodlawn to Marshall for a personal appearance. We admired his shiny cab with its brilliant red finish and sparkling gold lettering. We were impressed with his massive black water tank and tall wheels. And, we learned of his ability to inflate and deflate his tires in order to increase traction as he made his way through troubled waters. Finally, we gathered by his tank for a group picture by Optimist John Fortune.

In the book, Mighty Max can talk but only Tim can hear him, but all at our meeting that day would agree that he spoke eloquently about the importance of Optimism and about the joy and relief that he brought to folks and animals in a wet and wild adventure whose story will make a perfect gift for the children of Harrison County (and those farther away!).

Mighty Max and the Hurricane can be purchased at bookstores, or online at Amazon.com, Apple iTunes store, or Barnes and Noble. For additional information or inquiries about the book, contact the Christian Faith Publishing media department at 866-554-0919 or David Dean at 903-503-5524.