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Press box a memorial for Walker Johns

On Saturday morning volunteers, family, coaches and friends gathered to help remember a fellow knight, Walker Johns, by building a press box at the Farmington High School football field.

Walker was a student in the Farmington R-7 district who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on July. 28, 2010. In March of 2011 he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister, Zoe, as part of his treatment for ALL. Sadly, Walker lost his long and difficult 15-month battle on Nov. 3, 2011.

“Football and the Knights were his life,” grandmother Lois Johns said.

Walker was a 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. He would be so happy to see what they have done for him.”

Head football coach Todd Vaughn said he and the team appreciate the press box, but the 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 added. “This is Farmington. If something is important, people are going to pull together to get it done.”

On Aug. 17 the Farmington Board of Education met early to discuss and approve a lease agreement and other matters concerning the Walker Johns Memorial Press Box at the football field.

Superintendent Dr. Natalie Thomas and district patron and football supporter Keith Hutson met with a lease writer on Aug. 16 to complete details of an agreement between the school district and the Walker Johns Childhood Cancer Foundation. The district will lease the press box from the foundation at a cost of $51 for 51 years.

“I chose 51 years because 51 was his number,” Walker’s mom Kelly Johns said.

Dr. Thomas said one thing had to be addressed for legalities was the ownership as of the 52nd year. The district also asked to prepay the lease amount of $51, the full amount, instead of paying $1 a year for 51 years.

Hutson asked what would happen if they wanted to give press box to the district any time before the lease is up. Thomas said they could work on that if the family decides to do that later.

Kenny Johns, Walker’s dad, said he would put the press box up but asked if something happened would he be responsible for repairs. Thomas said they would clarify that the district would handle maintenance and the Johns family could take care of the electronic message boards.

Hutson thanked the school district, and Johns said his family appreciated everything the district has done for his family.

The board approved to lease the Walker Johns Memorial Press Box using funds given as memorials donated to the school district by the Johns family.

Kenny Johns said he and Kelly had the idea of the press box a while ago. During a recent wedding he talked to Farmington school board member Howard Hoehn about the idea.

“I was outside one day and Keith came by and talked about having the money from the (upcoming) grape stomp (event at Twin Oaks Vineyard and Winery) go toward the press box,” said Kenny Johns.

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, 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.

Hutson said the money for the grape stomp usually goes to the MCII Sheltered Workshop, but this year it was decided it would go to the press box project.

The grape stomp will be held Sept. 8 starting at noon at Twin Oaks Winery on State Route F. Entry for teams will be $60 and the team who gets the most juice from the grapes wins a cash prize. The winery also holds a Lucy look-a-like contest and other activities during the day.

Hutson said they’ve also had 25 or 30 businesses around the area donate money to the Walker Johns Memorial Press Box.

“This was strictly through donations. The school district didn’t fund any of this,” said Hutson.

Brockmiller’s Construction, Gifford’s Lumber Company and the Amsdens and others donated time and money to help get the press box up this past Saturday.

Board President Angela Hahn said the project has taken a life of its own.  “We are honored to accept this gift as on behalf of the district,” said Hahn.

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. In creating the foundation, the Walker family’s desire was to benefit local children, from birth to 18 years of age, in their battle with cancer.

Since its inception, the foundation has provided $4,500 to each of four children. The money can be used however the children’s families choose.

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