DEWAYNE'S WORLD - Children make hard day better

DeWayne Bartels

The St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria Run every year in August is one of those human interest stories that renews belief in compassion.

The run raises big money and attracts intense media attention.

On the opposite end of the money and attention spectrum is the annual Northmoor-Edison St. Jude Cuddle For Compassion Day held every December.   

The event began seven years ago when Aaron Hunter, a 6-year-old Northmoor-Edison student, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

It is an event made for pictures and media attention.

Everyone at the school is given the option to wear their PJ’s and carry their favorite stuffed animals.

But, this event has much more going for it than just cute pictures. 

Aaron fought the disease, and St. Jude was there for him.

But, little Aaron was one of the kids St. Jude lost.

He died Dec. 10, 2004.

His death left a hole not just with his biological family; it left a hole with his school family, as well.

This was a little boy who carved out a big place in a lot of hearts at Northmoor-Edison School.

The school’s devotion to Aaron’s memory is evident.

On the main floor, down the long hallway from the front door, and around the corner is a nondescript door. But the wall around that door is anything but nondescript.

Above the door is a mural with superheroes, which Aaron loved, and the words “The Aaron Hunter Library.”

Next to the door is a huge color photo of Aaron.

It’s one of those photos that brings a smile to your face before you even realize it.

In the photo Aaron has a wide toothless grin that, when looked at, cries out this was a boy full of orneriness.

His eyes carry an intense sparkle in the photo.  

The same photo is on the wall of principal Nicole Wood’s office.

There’s another photo on Wood’s wall — one in which his face is largely hidden. It’s the kind of photo that cries out he had a sensitive side. It’s a harder photo to look at. 

Aaron’s mother, Marilyn Mowder, stood looking at the photo that morning with me.

In her right hand she held a little bucket.

It had change, $1s, $5s, $10s and $20s in it.

It was money collected from the students in the school.

Marilyn, Aaron’s grandma, Donna, and Aaron’s brothers were there.

They were all in pajamas.

They stopped in Roberta Schroff’s second-grade class where they picked up $51 from little Katie Richeson. Marilyn smiled as the money went into the bucket.

“It’s bittersweet coming here every year. It’s nice to know the staff and students don’t let Aaron’s spirit die,” she said.

By the time Marilyn put down her bucket on a table in Wood’s office under that photo of Aaron she had $925 to donate to the St. Jude Affilliate in Peoria in Aaron’s name.

Compassion, it seems,  comes in small packages.