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“We’re going to Disneyworld!!!” we yelled to our kids.  We had kept it a secret until we brought them home from school.  We had completed a crowdfunding drive that enabled us to go to Disneyworld and told our 3 kids just before we left for the airport.  They were shocked, screamed with joy, hugged us, and asked every question you could imagine.  Then our youngest, Trey, stopped on a dime and asked, “Can we go to Kennywood?”

You see Kennywood was Trey’s favorite place on earth.  Sure, we were going to Disney.  Sure, we were going in a limo to the airport, sure we were about to eat, sleep, drink, and ride everything mouse.  However, Trey wanted to know if Kennywood was part of the deal.  THAT’S how much Trey loved Kennywood.

We purchased weekday passes last summer and created memory after memory of riding rides and stuffing our faces with fries and all the goodness that Kennywood has to offer.  Trey was growing and was finally able to ride the Racers, Raging River Rapids and many other “big boy” rides.  He rode them time and again with a smile that cannot be described in words.

You’ve probably wondered at this point why I keep using the past tense when referring to Trey.  Trey was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer on December 24th, 2010.  After an almost 4 year head to head war with this insidious disease, Trey completed his battle on November 5th, 2014 (never knowing what cancer was, that he had it, or what his diagnosis was).  His impact on the thousands who prayed and came to know of him and our plight was massive (even Donald Trump contributed to his Disney campaign).  I want to share one last thing with you.

It was my last conversation with Trey.  All of the treatment options were exhausted.  “Pain management” was all they could offer at this point.  We knew “it” was coming.  He was still up and about and not in hospice yet.  We had some family in town so my wife and other kids were out with them as I gave Trey a bath.  He was weak and in a good deal of pain (which he always handled with a strength that only comes through prayer and divine intervention).  As he settled into the water he gently said to me in a whisper, “Let’s talk about Kennywood.”  He needed something to give him comfort.  He chose to talk about Kennywood.  We proceeded to talk about every ride in the park.  We talked about each time we visited there.  He asked me what my favorite ride was there and I replied, “Any ride I rode with you.”  He smiled.

I got him out of the bath and into bed.  His last words to me were, “Love you.”  Trey died in his sleep that night.  It was not unexpected but it was very sudden.

I write this letter to you on the eve or your opening for the season so that you may share it with your wonderful staff.  Working at an amusement park cannot be an easy job.  The hours are long and the people not always so nice.  However, in the midst of the line cutters and helicopter moms who insist that their child is in fact tall enough to ride a given ride, a warrior angel may be in their midst.  Each one of your staff had a hand in giving a kid with terminal cancer (and his family) a day of rest, a day of joy, a day of memories (which are all we have of him now) that will last many a lifetime.

Kennywood and all of it’s employees are vital to the lives of so many people.  I know it was for Trey and will continue to be for the rest of my family.  It will be bitter sweet this summer when we walk into the park for the first time without him, but that will fade as we remember the joy Kennywood brought Trey.

So when your staff is down, tired, and bitter, when they measure their desire to work on their paycheck alone, please remind them that another warrior angel may be the next one in line.

Thank you Kennywood.  You have a greater impact on the lives of those who walk through that tunnel than you’d ever know.

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