PORT ORCHARD — Jedi Minters’ wide-eyed expression said it all — this was his day to revel in many of the joys shared by little boys his age — namely monster trucks, fire engines and police motorcycles.
The 3-year-old had his tiny hands sandwiched together and a smile stretched across his face while his father guided him last week along a maze of City of Port Orchard service vehicles, most of them flashing their emergency lights as a welcome to the Port Orchard boy.
Thanks to Jason Minters, Jedi’s dad, Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu and city employee Thomas Hunter of the public works department, this day — called “Jedi’s Special Day” — at the Port of Bremerton boat launch parking lot, across the street from City Hall, was just for Jedi.
Jedi’s sheer excitement was shadowed by the underlying reason for the celebration — he has acute myeloid leukemia and doctors have concluded the little boy’s 19-month ordeal battling the disease has ultimately been unsuccessful.
He has been a regular visitor to this region’s top medical centers in the effort to fight the cancer of the blood and bone marrow — most notably, Seattle Children’s and Mary Bridge Children’s medical centers. Sadly, after seemingly endless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and two bone marrow transplants, Jason and his wife Lisa’s only child has just months to live, according to the boy’s medical team.
With that realization, the parents decided to “spoil our son with the time we have,” Jason wrote to Port Orchard city officials. What better way to do that than get Jedi a personal tour of some of the city’s service vehicles — perhaps a couple of police cars, a fire engine and a big, gnarly utility truck of some sort.
Moved by the letter, Mayor Rob Putaansuu responded, “Absolutely.” He asked Thomas Hunter, water systems manager in the public works department, to make arrangements so the young boy could see the biggest, loudest and flashiest vehicles the city had on hand — enough of a show to impress a 3-year-old boy.
Hunter reached out to South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and asked if a couple of emergency vehicles could make a visit. What emerged is a testament to the compassion of the Port Orchard community and its public servants.
Originally planned as a small gathering of some city-owned equipment at the public works shop turned into something much more.
“We had a pretty tight timeline with when the family was available, but after just a couple of phone calls, it started to spread like wildfire,” Hunter said of the event plans. “I was definitely happy to help in any way I could.”
The fire department gave the go-ahead to have a fire engine, a ladder truck and other apparatus available for Jedi’s inspection. The police department and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office agreed to have on hand some of their rolling stock and Safe Boats International volunteered to have one of its seagoing vessels docked steps away at the pier.
And others made it known they wanted to help.
Putaansuu agreed that little persuasion was needed to get cooperation: “We started to put it together and then other folks heard about it and said, ‘Hey, we want in.’”
Some who joined included the Soup Ladies, who help out firefighters and first responders with meals, as well as Starbucks, which donated beverages for the event.
A slew of fearsome monster trucks lining the parking lot were so visible that Putaansuu said people stopped him on the curb asking if a truck show was being readied for the waterfront.
“I said, ‘Nope, this is Jedi’s special day.’ I am so proud of our community. It warms my heart.”
But what was most impressive to the mayor and Hunter was the turnout of people from the community who simply wanted to help make sure this day was special for Jedi. People of all stripes stood at the ready to lend their assistance, including those from the Navy, sheriff’s deputies, Washington State Patrol and Port Orchard officers.
In what surely was a bittersweet day, little Jedi and his father — accompanied by his equally elated cousins — walked among the equipment deciding which one to climb aboard first. But as a reminder that the youngster’s body continues to fight leukemia, a long line of yellow caution tape outlined the parking lot perimeter to keep onlookers at a safe distance to minimize the chances he might contract microbes that could compromise his immune system.
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to meet his parents in better circumstances,” Hunter said. “I have a couple of little boys at home and can’t imagine what they’ve gone through.”
The little boy’s outward appearance — with a tube leading into his nasal cavity and the effects of steroids casting a paler shade on his face — reflects the battle he has waged over the past 18 months, but there was no mistaking what his father Jason said is his son’s usual demeanor: invariably upbeat, impish and carefree. As his dad related, “every single person he meets is his friend.”
While the real-life battle raging in his body may soon come to an end, this youngster has earned the admiration and love of a community that would be the envy of any warrior — even a Jedi protector of the Star Wars universe.