Contributed photo/Karen Donato
MAKING A DIFFERENCE — Many volunteers helped complete Leif Dahlk’s wish for a tree house funded through the Maine Make-A-Wish chapter. The tree house was built over the weekend at the Dahlk home in Littleton. From left Gary Tingley, Josh Tuttle, Dave Ferrazza, Matt Tuttle, Tony Hartt, Janice and Clay Good, David, Stephen and Paula Dahlk, Karen King, Marilyn Carey and Melinda Ferrazza. A-top the slide, Meysha Dahlk with her brother Leif behind her and sister Elizabeth.
By Karen Donato
A special to the Pioneer Times
LITTLETON — It has been nearly a year in the making, but the wish of a second grade Littleton boy has been realized. Leif Dahlk, son of Paula and Stephen Dahlk who was stricken with a cancer diagnosis five years ago wished for a place to call his own. Since he loved climbing trees when he was well, the perfect thing to build was a tree house. With the support of the Maine Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and perfect weather conditions for the event he now has that place.
Nickerson Construction of New Limerick had prepared the site for the building of the tree house prior to the construction last weekend. Matt Tuttle, foreman of Kids Crooked House Company along with his brother, Josh and John Clavette all of Portland, Clay and Janice Good of Houlton, Tony Hartt of New Limerick and many volunteers built a tree house for Leif and his younger sisters, Meysha 7, Elizabeth 5 and his brother, David, two and one half years old.
Marilyn Carey, of New Limerick and Karen King of Amity, local wish grantors for Aroostook County have been working on this wish that has happened in two stages. David and Duane Nickerson of Nickerson Construction granted the first part of the wish last fall. They took him for a ride and gave him a turn at driving a bulldozer, a skid steer and a dump truck. After that the planning began for a special tree house, complete with a security system.
Last Friday the support posts and a deck floor were installed for the tree house. The house itself was delivered in pre-made panels that made the installation easy and quick. A deck was built to wrap around the structure with a walkway to a separate deck built around a tree. There are two ladders to reach the landing and two slides for an easy exit from Leif’s House.
On Saturday afternoon, the United Vets of Houlton led a parade of more than 50 motorcycles that included the Pine State Motorcycle group from Presque Isle, the Legion Riders and Hog Chapter from Caribou to the site of the tree house. Leif rode with Paul Graham as the lead driver from the Hillsiding Road up their long driveway measuring nearly one-third of a mile to the Dahlk’s home.
“When I saw all of those bikers coming up our driveway I just lost it,” exclaimed Leif’s mother, Paula Dahlk. “I was just so overwhelmed.”
Leif’s dad, Steve said that this project has given them proof that a new day has come.
“We now have roots here,” he said. “We have come beyond the stress of the hospital room and there is some calmness to our lives.”
In 2005, Leif was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; he was just turning four years old. His family had just moved to Maine from Tennessee and was staying in Merrill. They had no family in the area to help so the Dahlks sought refuge at the Ronald McDonald House in Bangor while Leif received treatments and then a bone marrow transplant in Boston.
WISHES — Make-A-Wish grantors pose with Leif Dahlk at the completion of his tree house. They are from left, Marilyn Carey, wish grantor from New Limerick, Karen King, wish grantor from Amity and Melinda Ferrazza, wish manager from Brooks.
“It was a rough time for us,” said Paula. “We only had each other and it changed our whole world.”
“At the Ronald McDonald House we met a lady who had lost a child to cancer,” said Steve. “She told us that no one knows until they go through this experience how everyone’s life is changed. What was considered ‘normal’ is not any more. Every minute is devoted to the child who is sick and dealing with decisions, appointments and the side effects of the treatments. It’s like being in a war zone,” Dahlk continued.
As their temporary living arrangements came to an end in Merrill they started looking for other accommodations and found a camp with 12 acres of land in Littleton and made arrangements to buy it. Since relocating to the Hillsiding Road they have been renovating the camp to make it a home for the six of them. Steve, a carpenter by trade has put in a foundation and built a second story. The Dahlks must rely on a generator for power since the home is located so far from the road making it a costly venture to connect to the power line. The generator does provide enough power to run the washer and dryer, but they have no television and only a wood stove for cooking and heating.
The Dahlks never complain, they are so appreciative of the kindness and generosity of the people in this area. Materialistic things are not important; their family is what life is all about.
While Leif was hospitalized, Paula home-schooled him in his hospital room while giving his younger sisters art projects to work on. Paula is very artistic and creates beautiful piñatas and floral arrangements to sell. For Saturday’s event she made a special Make-A-Wish star that was given by Leif to display at the Make-A-Wish office in Camden. She continued to work with the three older children until this past fall when they enrolled at Wellington School in Monticello.
At the completion of the tree house project several hundred guests gathered round as Carey explained the Make-A-Wish mission. Following Carey’s presentation Rev. David Hutchinson gave a blessing on the Dahlk family and the tree house.
Hutchinson wrote this blessing inspired by Dr. Seuss. It was entitled, “May this tree house be a playhouse”. Touching the sky. Wow, it’s so high! Touching the ground, fun all around. Share it with your friends and kids of all kinds; Tall ones, short ones, skinny ones and stout. Fun for all, inside and out. When the sun shines bright, play inside with a kite. When the rain rains hard, eat a pound of lard. A tree house is a playhouse; a playhouse is a fun house. What do you do when there’s nothing to do? Sit in a tree house, til you feel like a mouse. Run like a gazelle that’s ringing a bell. So be careful I say when you say what you say. Wishes do come true from out of the blue. Make a wish, make a wish. Stand back and wait. Open your eyes and look, isn’t it great! A tree house is a playhouse; a playhouse is a fun house. Play safe, play hard. Have fun so be it!
LEIF’S PLACE — Prior to the building of the new tree house, Leif spent many hours in this little shelter that he built himself with scrap wood, attaching some sheets of metal to the roof to prevent leaks. He had even made a make-believe generator with an old shoebox and wires.
After the blessing, Melinda Ferrazza of Brooks, wish manager for eastern and northern Maine assisted with the presentation of a variety of housewarming gifts for Leif that included a mailbox, birdfeeder, sleeping bag, game table, flashlight, lanterns and various Betty Crocker baking mixes. He also received a security system so he will know when someone is coming to visit him. The Make-A-Wish organization also provided gifts for Leif’s siblings.
Leif was also one of 10 Make-A-Wish recipients from across the United States to receive funding and baking products as part of the Stirring up Wishes program sponsored by the Betty Crocker organization. It also included red mixing spoons for many of the guests.
The motorcycle group provided a barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers with the support Dave Cunha owner of County Yankee. Houlton Farms Dairy donated lemonade and ice cream for everyone and many friends made dozens of brownies. According to Paul Graham of the Houlton United Vets organization the response from local business and individuals was beyond belief.
“Everyone said, ‘yes’ who we asked,” said Graham. “Not a person said, ‘no’.”
The biker organizations throughout the County will be sponsoring a Ride for Wishes at the end of July to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They begin their ride in Caribou; stop in Houlton then down through Smyrna Mills to Route 11 and back to Caribou and the lady bikers just recently conducted a Make-A-Wish Walk collecting close to $900 in pledges.
Graham said this was the first time they have been involved with a local recipient and a wish and how it meant so much more being involved on the local level. He was also very impressed with the gratitude that Leif demonstrated at such a young age. He was totally amazed with his politeness and caring attitude. Leif always made sure his sisters and little brother were also included in all of the excitement.
“He was just so thankful for everything that we were doing,” said Graham.
Others contributing to the project were Katahdin Forest Products, Horton’s Building Supply, Steelstone Industries, Monticello Country Store and Houlton Tire. Susan York provided art activities for all the children attending the afternoon celebration.
Leif’s summary of the event, “Totally awesome!”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine has granted more than 900 wishes to Maine Children since 1992 who are faced with life-threatening medical conditions. The average wish granted costs over $6,000, and a wish is granted more than once a week somewhere in Maine. There will be a wish granted in Easton and another one in Houlton later this year.
Marybeth Fitzpatrick has organized a local walk for wishes for the last seven years and this year raised more than $3,500 with a large contingent of Homeland Security wives participating in the walk and a generous donation from the Houlton Elks Club.
Contributed photo/Karen Donato