Galaen - I'll have to try that one.
Let me say that, despite the fact that the phone issue wasn't completely resolved, these guys are amazing.
special thanks to flapp - staying up way late with me was pretty kick-ass and much appreciated.
So here's where we are:
The phone will not load a new rom copied from PC to SD card, or from pc to phone via adb push...but it will load a new recovery image (4ext was loaded during the testing of this) from the sdcard. It will restore a nandroid backup from the sd card, and that backup works (although it is old). Phone, text, market, apps - all working.
But when you load a new ROM.....nothing. White screen, 1 vibrate (I noticed that her current rom does vibrate once on the white screen, so it might be a system thing, or nothing at all). It's like it isn't writing something correctly during ROM flashes...which makes no sense because I tried both 3.6 and 3.7, both versions that I installed on my inspire with matching hardware (same brand sdcard, same phone, etc). The only difference in the phones is that I have put mine through WAY more physical and electrical hell than hers has been through.
At any rate, the only thing I have left to try is to load a ROM from the sdcard that was downloaded to the phone via the internal browser...it's the only option i can think of now. It's beginning to look like something beyond the scope of a ROM issue.