By Barb Arland-Fye
The little boy’s dad choked up during the TV interview, describing how he knew the end was near when his 7-year-old son stopped smiling. He always had the greatest smile, the tearful dad explained.
TV anchor Gary Metivier of KWQC TV-6 News in Davenport had been interviewing the family throughout their son’s illness. Their story and the story of other families who had struggled with terminal illness moved the TV anchorman, who has two sons of his own.
His younger son, Adam, then 6, told his dad he ought to write a story to raise money to help other kids with cancer. A storyteller all his life, Metivier, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, took his son’s request to heart.
“Willie’s Wagon” is the story Metivier wrote — with help from Adam — about a 7-year-old boy trying to understand himself and his place in the world. On the journey, Willie discovers there is more to life than what he needs. He learns about reaching out to others and decides to help bring a smile to the faces of children fighting cancer.
A second book followed, “A Hog Ate My Homework,” and a third is planned, Metivier told students at John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport when he visited there last month to talk about the value of reading and writing and giving back to the community.
As part of Metivier’s presentation, the students watched a video about the Heart Connection Summer Cancer Camp in Boone, Iowa. A portion of proceeds from the books helps support the camp.
“We are excited to have been able to help raise more than $50,000 in cash and other donations to support children’s charities including the cancer camp,” Metivier told the students.
That information impressed the students, but Metivier especially got their attention when he had one of their schoolmates and two teachers dance around with pig snouts and then brought out his pet pig, Frankie.
Metivier’s been visiting area schools — about 100 public and private so far — to encourage reading and writing and to “inspire children to follow Willie’s lead, or to at least better understand what they have to be thankful for,” he said.
It’s a message he takes to heart. Metivier grew up in a Catholic family with two parents and 12 kids, all of whom are alive and well. He also has a wife and two children — all of whom are healthy.
“I believe God has blessed me and my family,” he said, and given him the opportunity to be in a high-profile position that allows him to make an impact in the lives of other people. Being able to write a book that can put a smile on the face of even one child is a gift from God, Metivier adds.
Trish Hinchman, a music teacher at John F. Kennedy who also serves on its reading committee, spotted “Willie’s Wagon” at a bookstore. “I thought, ‘how cool it would be for the kids to meet someone who is an author.’” She checked the book’s Web site www.willieswagon.com and learned that Metivier visits schools. (The books are available on the Web site or at Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.)
His visit to John F. Kennedy was terrific and served a three-fold purpose, Hinchman said. The first was encouraging students to read; the second was meeting an author; and the third — showing the cancer camp video — goes along with the school’s efforts to promote helping others, Hinchman said. “I would highly recommend any school thinking about having him come to visit.”
Metivier says he enjoys visiting Catholic schools “because the children are already tuned in to community service and helping others.”