Everyone has a wish. Children are encouraged to make a wish as they blow the candles out on their birthday cakes. At Thanksgiving, the tradition is for two people to each make a wish as they pull the turkey’s wishbone apart. Coins are tossed into fountains and wells worldwide with a whispered wish following them into the water.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation takes these traditions a step further by granting wishes of children who have been diagnosed with critical illnesses.
For nearly 40 years, the foundation has helped children realize their one true wish. Last month, 17-year-old Matthew Hann, of Kearneysville, got his wish.
Hann – who has Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy – wished to ride in a steam locomotive. Lucky for him, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park has more than enough steam engines in its fleet to take care of that.
Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia’s Julia Reed reached out to Cass and spoke to machine shop foreman Rex Cassell who set up a time for Hann and his mother, Karen Williams, to visit the park.
“They tried other railroads, and there was no way they could fire one up, so she got my name and contacted me,” Cassell said. “It takes us about a day or two to fire one up, and I had them give us a week’s notice of when he could come so we could do this.”
Cassell gathered a crew of three – engineer Kenny Queen, fireman Cody Brooks and Ross Harrison – and the trio set out in Shay No. 2 Engine with Hann and Williams.
“We took him up our river line – Greenbrier Division line about a mile – and brought him back to Cass and then we went up our Cass line that we haul tourists on up to the first switchback – about two-and-a-half miles,” Cassell said. “When we brought him back down here, we asked if he wanted to ride more and he said, ‘No, I’m done.’”
Hann rode in the engine for about an hour-and-a-half and got his picture taken with the crew and engine.
Although it was a chilly day with snow on the ground, Hann had a good time making his wish come true.
“He was happy,” Cassell said. “He was a little hesitant at first, of course, because those things are noisy, but once they got to moving, he was comfortable and he really enjoyed it.”
Cassell said that in his 32 years at Cass, this is the first time he has seen Make-A-Wish come there. He was happy to help Hann realize his wish and hopes it will be a lasting memory for the young man.
Make-A-Wish was inspired in 1980 by a young man named Christopher James Greicius, a seven-year-old who was diagnosed with leukemia. The young boy’s community in Phoenix, Arizona, worked together to make his wish of being a police officer come true.
Inspired by the efforts of the community to help Greicius realize his wish, Make-A-Wish was founded and its first official wish was granted in 1981 for a seven-year-old named Frank “Bopsy” Salazar. The Phoenix Fire Department granted Salazar’s wish by making him a member of the Engine 9 crew and taking him and his family to Disney Land.
Since then, the foundation has granted thousands of wishes worldwide. For more information, visit wish.org