FARMINGTON – One day before he would have turned 15, Walker John’s friends and family gave him a present that would have left him speechless.
On Saturday, volunteers built a new press box for Farmington High School’s football field in honor of Walker, who died Nov. 3, 2011 of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. On hand to help or watch were Walker’s parents, grandparents, aunt, cousins, Farmington football coaches and friends.
“Football and the Knights were his life,” grandmother Lois Johns said.
Walker was waterboy for the Knights and looked forward to playing for the team, said grandmother Ann Walker.
“He spent most of his time at the football field,” she said of the Farmington Middle School student who played league football. “He would be so happy to see what they have done for him.”
Early Friday morning, the Farmington School Board approved a 51-year-lease for the Walker Johns Memorial Press Box, which is owned by the Walker Johns Childhood Cancer Foundation.
“I chose 51 years because 51 was his number,” mom Kelly Johns said.
Workers showed up at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to begin construction on the 42 feet by 12 feet press box. Volunteers included family, friends, football coaches and local constriction workers. By noon, the sides were up, interior framework was in place and workers were hammering in rafters. They expected to complete the structure by the end of the day. Electricity is scheduled for installation this week and the press box will be ready for use by the high school’s first game on Aug. 31.
“This would blow him away,” Kelly said of her son’s reaction if he knew about the press box. “But he never looked for recognition, absolutely not.”
An impact on others
Walker was only 12 when he was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2010. Two days after diagnosis, he began chemotherapy. The following March, Walker received a bone marrow transplant from his sister, Zoe.
The morning of his surgery, a group of students, parents and teachers gathered the morning of his surgery to remember those who were also going through bone marrow transplants.
While he was sick, his family realized what an impact Walker had on his friends and the community.
One night while Walker was in ICU battling an infection, Kelly Johns posted “A Knight Fights with all his Might” on Facebook. Kerrie Boyer, whose daughter has been friends with Walker since they were young, saw the post and wrote it down. The next morning she wrote a story based on that sentence. That turned into a book about Walker called, “A Knight Fights.”
The book focuses on overcoming self-doubt and fear when faced with adversity and how a child taught a small Missouri town what it means to be strong and never lose hope, according to Boyer. Kory Kleppe stepped in as illustrator. The two worked together and self-published the book as a fundraiser for the foundation. The paperback version of the book is $15 and the hardback version is $25. For information on where to buy the book, call 573-760-4496.
Walker’s family started the Walker Johns Childhood Cancer Foundation to help children who have cancer. It is supported by donations, including efforts by the Johns family’s friends that started while Walker was still in the hospital.
“A bunch of her friends got together and had a run/walk,” Lois Johns said. “They made quite a bit of money and decided to continue it for other children.”
Since its inception, the foundation has provided $4,500 to each of four children. The money can be used however the children want.
The foundation has a Facebook page and members are working on a website with information for families who are dealing with childhood cancer.
When Walker was a child, the school district replaced the grass on the football field with turf. At that time, they switched the Home and Visitor sides of the field. That left the existing press box on the visitor’s side. Kenny Johns, Walker’s dad and a football coach, thought a press box was needed on the Farmington side of the field.
When Walker was well, he often tagged along with his dad to football practices and games. According to his family, Walker could tell you every player’s name, number and position as the plays were run.
After Walker was diagnosed, Kenny Johns stopped coaching to take care of his son. But he didn’t forget the idea of a press box. Walker’s death inspired his family and friends to make that idea a reality.
The press box is funded through donations, not district monies. Approximately 30 area businesses contributed to the project. Once it is completed, businesses can pay to advertise on the press box. That money will go into the foundation to continue to help children, Kelly Johns said.
Head football coach Todd Vaughn said that he and the team appreciate the press box, but story behind it is more important.
“The press box is neat, but it’s the fact that everyone has come together for Walker and Kenny and Kelly and Zoe is more important,” Vaughn said. “This is Farmington: If something is important, people are going to pull together to get it done.”
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at email@example.com.