Students, community band together for Howard Elementary Walk-a-Thon

Eighty-five Howard Elementary School students took laps around a field behind the school as part of the annual Walk-a-Thon event.
Eighty-five Howard Elementary School students took laps around a field behind the school as part of the annual Walk-a-Thon event. CDT photo

Myles Stover did a good job holding back his tears as he talked about a good friend and former classmate who died of cancer in 2010.

The fifth-grader spent most of his short life with Cooper Cody.

“He was a very good kid and a really awesome friend,” Myles, 11, said. “He meant so much to everyone and was such a good person to everyone. He was just special because of what he meant to all of us.”

On Friday afternoon, Howard Elementary School held its annual Walk-a-Thon.

In its seventh year, the walk was dedicated to Cooper by raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Camp Dost — both of which were involved with Cooper.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a national nonprofit that helps make dreams come true for children with life-threatening diseases.

Camp Dost is a camp run by the Ronald McDonald House for children ages 5 to 18 who have cancer.

“It was a special year because he would have been in fifth grade — his last year at the school,” said fifth-grade teacher Amber Buchanan. “This is something the fifth-grade class wanted to do, and it speaks volumes.”

In previous years, the school raised funds for other organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association and Pets Come First.

Kindergarten teacher Sherri True said that Cooper’s first incident happened in kindergarten; he fell and broke his arm during recess.

“It was kind of a blessing that he broke his arm because it was the first sign, and a way to detect and treat it head-on, right away,” True said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t respond to treatment.”

Cooper was diagnosed in April 2009 with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, and died the July before he entered second grade.

True was able to help home-school Cooper through the rest of kindergarten and first-grade, and said she was honored to “promote him to second-grade.”

“He was this fun, bubbly kid that everyone liked,” True said with tears in her eyes. “His battle with cancer finished, but he didn’t lose a thing.”

It also sparked class discussion with teachers and their students.

“When they have questions, it’s hard to talk about at that level, but it was realistic and needed to be addressed,” True said.

Cooper’s mother, Julie Cody, of Howard, said the Make-A-Wish Foundation made a dream come true for her son. The family was awarded a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., a week after the Harry Potter section opened.

“That was one of his favorite things, and he insisted that we wait to go to Universal until it opened,” Cody said. “What’s going on today is just one way to spread awareness of these organizations that was such a help to us.”

From tragedy came a positive outlook.

Teachers said the entire community banded together to help give back in Cooper’s memory.

“It was so cool how everyone helped raise money for Cooper,” said friend and classmate Thomas Beck, 10.

Hunter Snoberger, 10, also added that if Cooper was still alive, he’d be “so proud” of the initiative.

“He was one of those kids that would have definitely been a part of this,” Hunter said.

By 12:30 p.m., the school raised $2,400, and that amount was matched by Cody’s parents. Subsequent community donations helped bring the preliminary total to $5,137.17.

Other funds were donated by community members and organizations that included the Milesburg American Legion, Beck’s Frame & Alignment Service, SF Construction, Gardner Contracting & Design, Nature’s Cover, Howard United Methodist Church, Howard Lighthouse Reformed Church, First Quality, Pizza Mia and the State College Spikes.

More donations came in as the 85 students took laps around the field behind the school.

“It was really a community effort,” said Lindsey Herzing, regional manager for Make-A-Wish in Punxsutawney.

The community even participated in a project spearheaded by Lester Beck to make a hand-pedal bike for kindergartener Cameron Martin, 6, who is paralyzed from the waist down. He completed at least two laps as he used his arms to pedal the bike around the field.

“The community made sure each child could be a part of this walk,” said Principal Skip Pighetti. “Everyone’s been really enthusiastic, and showing that something positive is coming out of this whole thing … really proud of this school.”