PROSPERITY — Prosperity’s Hoppin’, a festival built around Prosperity’s lineage as the town Frog Level, will honor Prosperity’s very own Frog Man, James Sizemore.
So, how did Prosperity come to have a Frog Man?
A few years ago, mysterious metal frog sculptures made of horseshoes started popping up all over Prosperity.
The first one showed up near what was then the Back Porch Restaurant. Outside a Prosperity dentist office, a frog appeared with teeth. A red frog showed up near the fire station.
Eventually locals learned the artist behind the work was Aiken native and Prosperity resident James Sizemore, who said he got the idea as he strolled through Lynch’s Woods.
Some frogs are painted but others are left rusty looking for effect. He uses old horseshoes supplied by friends in Aiken.
Over the years he has made frogs for people in Germany, soldiers in Afghanistan and for people all across the United States.
Sizemore is commissioned to make a 10-foot by five-foot frog sculpture that will reside beside the big mural at the corner of Main Street in Prosperity. That large frog will have its tongue in the air with a bug on it.
So far, he has used about 10 20-inch sticks of four inch by quarter-inch steel, metal he had bought for his dock repair business, repurposing it from a Columbia plant. He is still working on the sculpture and is not sure how tall it will be.
Hoppin’ into new plan
Circumstances changed his plans to unveil the sculpture at Prosperity’s Hoppin’. Three years ago a routine colonoscopy showed colon cancer that spread to his liver and lung.
Doctors said without the colonoscopy he would have only lived six months. Surgery and chemotherapy helped his liver and colon but he said the lung cancer is hardest to control.
For three years Sizemore has received treatment at Newberry County Memorial Hospital. Right now scans show no changes, and that is welcome news.
“The doctor said he can’t figure me out — the only one of his patients ever to have gained weight while on chemo,” Sizemore said. “He said it was a total miracle I survived surgery (to remove four feet of his colon) and then that I can continue to take (these large doses of chemo).”
The chemo takes its toll, though.
Sizemore estimates he has about four days of “feeling good” for every 14 days he is too weakened by chemotherapy treatments to do much more than rest.
“Sometime (on the good) days I have to do a little bit, rest,” he said. “Then I rest and do some more.”
The creative process became therapeutic for him in a way he did not expect.
Sizemore loves the creative process and how his imagination helps him see pieces from the discarded metal, scrap parts and sometimes car parts.
People bring him piles of metal and just ask him to make them some kind of art for their yard or home even if it takes him 10 years to do so.
Sometimes he thinks about the next shape his art will take as he sits at his infusion station. That mental escape helps make those hours more tolerable.
Chemotherapy takes a lot, gives a lot
Although chemo has taken a lot out of him, he said the experience has given a lot, too.
“I have more appreciation for life and for the joy of living,” he said. “I hand out notes to new patients that say Welcome to Susan’s Chemo Bar and Grille where it’s happy hour all day long and served up one drip at a time.”
Usually they laugh at the joke about his infusion nurse.
He built a bell that each patient can ring when he or she completes chemotherapy. While he will sometimes ring the bell, he knows he will be on maintenance chemo the rest of his life.
Still, he hops up determined to make the best of each day and to bring joy to other patients and staff at NCMH and the Newberry oncology clinic.
He has given frogs and other sculptures to patients, nurses and doctors. One frog he gave to a doctor had a leg raised, he said, in preparation for a colonoscopy.
He relies upon support from his companion of over 30 years, Kathi McIver, his primary caregiver who stopped working as a dental assistant to care for him. Sizemore said he loves and treasures their special bond, and thanks to her he is still able to reach out with his art.
Piddling in his shop with MIG and TIG welding is a good niche, but he had to give up his strolls through Lynch’s Woods because of neuropathy side effects from treatment.
The couple is planning to sail a 35-foot catamaran and he wants to make a trip out west with her.
Sizemore said he was blessed to have lived a life where he worked hard at a variety of jobs, from painting airplanes to selling pine straw to repairing docks.
He served in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam War. Afterwards he painted airplanes for a while and did volunteer work with DNR. Over time he was contracted to build bluebird houses at state nature preserves.
He and Kathi moved to Prosperity 10 years ago after he took on work repairing docks on Lake Murray and discovered the area.
“We downsized from 70 acres (in Aiken) to about three in Prosperity, but there’s no place I’d rather be,” he said. “The folks here are like family.”
Whether it’s faith, science or perhaps a little luck from all those horseshoes collected for frogs, doctors are amazed at how well Frog Man’s body continues to fight to a stalemate with metastatic colon cancer.
Sizemore, for his part, appreciates each day and approaches each one with a smile on his face. He continues to work as his health allows.
The town will set up a ceremony to unveil his large frog at a later date.