What’s the first and only word out of an ailing boy’s mouth when he finds a 17-foot-tall rocket ship playhouse in his backyard?
“Holy,” exclaimed Oshyn Woods when a red blindfold was removed from his eyes Sunday afternoon. The 14-year-old gaped upward at the colorful steel rocket that had touched down behind his lower South Hill home, a gift of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska, Montana, Northern Idaho & Washington. A big smile lit up his face.
A crowd of about 60 people – family, friends and project volunteers – who had gathered to see Oshyn get his dearest wish broke into applause as he cut a ceremonial ribbon and checked out the inside of his dream playhouse. His friends tumbled in with him, pointing at the star-studded, glow-in-the-dark floor and fiddling with an old soundboard salvaged from the Fox Theater restoration that serves as a funky rocket control panel.
He emerged a few minutes later to say “thank you, thank you,” to the Make-A-Wish volunteers.
The Sacajawea Middle School eighth-grader has cerebral palsy and a rare brain stem malfunction, Arnold-Chiari malformation, diagnosed when he was 6 months old, said his parents, Mark and Betsy Wilhelms. The congenital brain condition can cause muscle weakness, vertigo and pain.
Oshyn thought carefully about his wish, Betsy Wilhelms said.
“He also told us he wanted to meet Harry Potter, and he thought about taking a trip. But when we talked more about his wish, he told us he’s interested in being the first disabled person in space,” Wilhelms added.
In the past year, about 80 children in the Spokane area with life-threatening diseases have been granted wishes, said Leslie Woodfill, the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s local “wish manager.” The chapter grants about 200 wishes a year to children throughout the region. The organization has 69 U.S. chapters and 28 international affiliates, according to its Web site.
The rocket ship project got off to a serendipitous start this summer after Woodfill met Spokane architect Doug Heyamoto at a coffee shop. He agreed to donate his time to draw up plans for the octagonal 8 1/2-foot-wide rocket. The goal was to have the rocket ready for Oshyn’s 14th birthday this month.
“We met by coincidence, so there was some karma here. I was happy to work with them,” Heyamoto said Sunday. “This is the result of a lot of talented people with concern for children in Spokane.”
Several companies got involved. Walker Construction donated the defunct soundboard from the Fox Theater restoration project and lined up four employee volunteers to work on the rocket, which was built in their shop, said Ed Walker of the construction company.
“We mugged that guy from the Wizard of Oz,” said Walker employee Paul Valsvig, in a joking reference to the Tin Man and the rocket’s nose – constructed from a large metal funnel. Valsvig said he worked on the interior trim and finish.
“I’ve never done a rocket ship before. NASA might be calling any day,” said Perrin Zanck, the project construction manager from Walker Construction.
Among the many volunteers, AllWall Contracting Inc. did the framing and painting of the all-steel exterior building. Ark Commercial Roofing did the roofing and siding. Kilgore Construction donated space-age bubble windows usually sold as covers for security cameras. Wittkopf Landscape Supplies donated sod for a new lawn next to the rocket.
“This wasn’t an easy project,” said Terry Jones, vice president of AllWall Contracting. “It was under construction for five weeks.”
Tom Quinn, a teacher at Spokane Art School, painted the interior murals, which include glowing stars, a blazing rocket ship on an extraterrestrial journey and a constellation from Oshyn’s birth month.
Dick’s Welding & Crane Service brought the rocket to Oshyn’s home Thursday, carefully setting it in the yard. Volunteers laid sod and planted flowers Saturday.
When asked how much the rocket cost, Walker replied, “Nobody cares. We were honored to be a part of this.”
“My budget was $3,000, but my guess is it cost a lot more,” Woodfill said.
Oshyn and his family had been staying at a hotel in Coeur d’Alene while the playhouse was moved in two pieces last Thursday.
Oshyn is the oldest of four brothers, and his new rocket playhouse will be empowering as he struggles with his neurological problems, his mother said.
“This is his own little kingdom,” Brenda Wilhelms said.