We received a gift this week. A gift in the form of a car. Though it could be considered a ‘collectable’ by some car enthusiasts, especially Volkswagen fans, it wouldn’t necessarily sell at Christie’s or other big name auction houses. But make no mistake, it has a rich history. It will not be driven nor will it be sold, but instead, we will take great care to protect it, and share its story, here at our castle.
The initial purchase negotiation by its last owner, and the woman who has gifted it to us, reveals much about its meaning to us - as it was so meaningful to her, and a little boy.
“The woman pressed the car salesman, ‘Is this a good car, or is it going to need a bunch of work on it a few months down the road? I’m asking because I can’t afford to have a lot of mechanic bills. My son has leukemia, and I need a reliable car for transportation to and from the doctor and hospital. I would appreciate it if you would be totally honest with me.’
The salesman sat behind his desk, leaned back in his chair, and just gazed at the woman, and her young son, for a minute. Then he leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk. ‘Young lady, the car will run perfectly, and you won’t have any problems with it. I will see to it myself. I promise you.’” (excerpted from Little Bubble Gum Trooper).
Good on him, that car salesman kept his word! That ‘slightly used, almost new’ car left the lot that October day in 1978 with less than 1,800 miles on it. Today it has 92,000 miles, the last 2,500 it traveled were on a trailer, brought cross-country with great care, and respect. This car brought that precious young boy to many doctor visits, and hospital stays. Eventually, it would also bring ‘Mommie’ many, oh so many times to visit her son’s gravesite.
Since the death of the little boy in 1980, over 250,000 wishes have been granted. One might say, granted in his name. You see, the boy was Chris Greicius, whose life - and death - was the inspiration for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His mother, Linda Bergendahl-Pauling, was one of the founders, in fact, she’s often fondly called the ‘Founding Mother’ of Make-A-Wish. (Please read more about Chris and his life here http://nj.wish.org/about-us/the-make-a-wish-story/the-first-wish)
Today, we now grant over 14,000 wishes annually, well more than 400 each year in New Jersey alone. A wish is granted every 38 minutes. And although there have been great advances in science and medicine, allowing many children to live with their medical conditions beyond childhood and well into adulthood and beyond, still so many succumb to their illnesses. Too many.
So as you gather with your families this Thursday, and throughout the upcoming holidays, may we ask you to remember in your thoughts and prayers all of our families, and especially those families who lost a child this year, who will be experiencing their first Thanksgiving without their precious child. Linda, Chris’ Mommie, surely thinks of them all the time.
In her book I mentioned earlier, (full title, Little Bubble Gum Trooper, A Mother’s True Story of How The Make-A-Wish Foundation Began) Linda recalls her negotiation, after hearing the salesman’s assurance 'Young lady, the car will run perfectly, and you won’t have any problems with it. I will see to it myself. I promise you’, Linda writes, ‘I looked him straight in the eye. Ok, we’ll take it!’
Chris clasped his hands and shouted with all the enthusiasm of a Heisman Trophy winner.
‘We got it! We got it! We got the little car Mommie!’
A couple of weeks later, we went to the movies to see Herbie the Love Bug. As we drove home that night Chris was jumping up and down in the car, ‘Mommie, Mommie, we have a Herbie! We have a Herbie.’ I turned to him, smiled, and laughed with him. ‘We sure do, Christopher, we sure do.’
Just as Herbie the Love Bug took care of his owners, Chris and I knew that our little Herbie would take care of us, too, no matter what.”
On behalf of the greater Make-A-Wish New Jersey family, thank you, Linda, for the gift of yours’ and Chris’ Herbie. Know that we are just as excited as Chris was the day your brought it home, and quite humbled, that you entrust its care to us. I wish you could have heard our staff as we saw ‘Herbie’ arrive at the castle, “It’s here, it’s here! We have Chris’ Herbie!” We sure do, team, we sure do.
But more so, thank you, along with your son, for inspiring this magnificently seemingly simple but oh so wildly powerful mission. Along with our board and staff, volunteers and donors, we will continue to take great care of children like Chris, here in New Jersey.
We will see to it ourselves. We promise you!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Thomas P. Weatherall
President & CEO
Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey
Right: As seen from the room in the castle named in honor of Chris.
Bottom Left: A tribute to Chris Greicius' wish to be an Arizona Police Officer.