PRESCOTT – Zachary Rowe’s mother still gets choked when she thinks of the cardboard box full of wooden toys delivered to her now 16-year-old’s intensive care unit bedside four years ago.
Her son’s right leg was crushed when a massive oak tree fell on his tent during a family camping trip in California. The damage was so severe that doctors were forced to amputate the leg.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, his mother, Michelle Peters, said the family received the box of handmade wooden toys from the Yavapai Toy Makers, the founder Ed Harrison penning a personal note of encouragement in a black Sharpie pen.
“Our hearts were so overwhelmed to think that a group of toy makers, who we had never met, would take the time to reach out to us so quickly after they learned of Zach’s tragedy,”said Peters who works as an instructional support specialist in the Arts & Humanities Department at Yavapai College.
“We arranged those wooden toys in Zach’s hospital room so he could see them clearly from his bed. Later they traveled with us to his next hospital room and, lastly, to their destination on one of Zach’s shelves in his bedroom.”
The Yavapai Toy Makers also crafted a wooden key to the city of Prescott that was presented to Zach when he returned to Prescott in January 2014.
“We had a wonderful time and Zach felt like a million bucks…,” his mother recalled.
Yavapai Toy Makers was born five years ago in a Yavapai College woodworking class.
Harrison, a retired entrepreneur, asked fellow classmates if they might help him make toys for sick children.
With the support of three woodworkers, Harrison built what is now a non-profit agency that boasts 45 toy makers who make and distribute about 700 toys a month to hospitals, shelters, schools and other child-focused agencies. Ballard Truss in Dewey supplies their designs and the bulk of their wood; community donations help cover costs of wheels and axles.
“If a child was not living a normal life, if they were sick with a terminal illness or had some other need, Ed wanted to get a toy in their hands,” his wife said.
One little boy in Prescott, Drezdin Marimon, was presented with a wagon able to carry his oxygen tank in June 2014. A summer later, the Toy Makers donated miniature fire buggies to all the children of the fallen 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots; they were painted the same colors as their fathers’ vehicles.
Eighteen months ago, Harrison was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma cancer. He was placed on a new immunotherapy regimen that worked for about a year. Then the cancer outsmarted the drugs, his wife said. He is now a patient of Granite Mountain Home Care and Hospice.
As his ambassador, Cindy Harrison said Ed is not one to complain about his own ills. He much rather talk about how to bring pleasure and smiles to someone else, especially a child.
Reporting back to her husband about a recent Yavapai Toy Makers breakfast where the group pledged to continue and grow her husband’s legacy, Cindy Harrison said, “Ed had tears in his eyes.”
“They’re not going to let it die,” she said he professed with relief.
When Ed alerted the toy makers his health required he step aside, toy maker Perry Breitenstein volunteered to lead. But he is quick to say no one will fill Ed’s shoes.
“He’s a tough act to follow,” Breitenstein said, proudly wearing a pair of Ed’s trademark suspenders designed with toy saws, screwdrivers and tool boxes that he considers his agency uniform.
“The Yavapai Toy Makers do a wonderful job for our community,” declared Robbie Nicol, executive director of Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s community outreach and philanthropy department.
Harrison and his toy makers have provided “beautiful, handmade toys” that have been given to pediatric in-patients, the emergency room, and the Family Resource Center, Nicol said.
“When I think of Ed, I think of smiles, selflessness, balloons, pizza, wooden toys with wheels, the word tenacity and, of course, his signature suspenders. We love you Ed!” Peters declared.
Anyone seeking to learn more about the organization or how to donate can do so through the website:www.yavapaitoymakers.org. An account for donations has been established at Country Bank, 147 North Cortez Street. The account number is 113867.