Holiday magic just beginning for Kelsey Minick

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Date: 2006-11-23

Fairy tales sometimes come true
With community's help, girl will soar just as she imagined
By Kim Hone-McMahan
Beacon Journal staff writer

Kelsey Minick tossed her long, silky hair over her shoulders and pointed her nose to the ceiling. Closing her eyes, she spun her wheelchair in circles.
In her fairy tale, she was dancing tall on the tips of her toes, just like the girls she saw on television.

At 6 years old, she already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: a ballerina.

But child abuse has rendered her legs limp. Still, a little girl can dream.

Because her first adoptive father, Gerald Hyre, severed her spine in a fit of rage Sept. 25, 2002, Kelsey can no longer ride a Big Wheel tricycle likeother children. Unable to fully understand why her body no longer functioned the way it should, she spent hours that Christmas flipping through the  J.C. Penney holiday catalog. Each time, she paused on the page that contained pictures of the bike and pointed.

``That's what I want Santa to bring me.''

By then, she was living with Chuck and Sue Minick, the couple who would ultimately readopt her. Heartbroken, they knew that her legs would never be able to push the pedals of a bicycle again. Still, a little girl can dream.

The petite child, who came to Akron from an orphanage in Russia, insists that she arrived in this country aboard the Goodyear blimp.

``It must have been an exciting trip across the sea,'' adults have said to the bright-eyed kindergartner. But they knew she'd never been inside a gondola. Still, a little girl can dream.

In April, Kelsey's story was chronicled in a Beacon Journal series. Since then, scores of people with generous spirits have come forward with one goal in mind -- to make a little girl's fantasies come true.

Land of sweets

On Saturday and Sunday, Kelsey will perform with the Children's Ballet Theatre in this year's production of The Nutcracker at the Akron Civic Theatre. Kelsey will play the little sister of Clara, the imaginative child who travels through a land of visions, filled with wondrous adventures.

During a recent practice, Kelsey wore a leotard, just like the other girls. Her cheeks, flushed from the warm rehearsal studio, were the color of soft pink rose petals. And her feet, though they never moved, were tucked inside a pair of pretty satin shoes.

``I couldn't get through the stories without crying,'' Valerie Renner, marketing director for the Children's Ballet, said of the series about Kelsey. ``We spread magic here and I knew there was something that we needed to do for her.''

Renner suggested to artistic director Christine Meneer that Kelsey be included in the production. For years, Meneer had been wanting to cast a child with a disability. And secretly she had been searching for a Victorian wheelchair.

After learning about Kelsey and her dream, Meneer bid for a chair on eBay. Under the terms of the sale, the buyer was obligated to pick up the item. Meneer told Kelsey's story to the only other bidder, Tim Naab of Cincinnati, and the stranger offered to drive to Des Moines, Iowa, to get the chair and deliver it to Akron. After the production, Naab, who now owns the chair, will take it to his home.

For Renner, the telephone call to the Minick home was one of the most exciting she had ever made.

``How would you feel if Kelsey could be in The Nutcracker this year?'' Renner asked Sue Minick.

``Oh my gosh, I can't wait to tell her!''

So Kelsey will make her stage debut this holiday season. Look for the little girl in the cranberry dress -- and satin shoes.

Zooming by

Though Kelsey longed for a Big Wheel for Christmas the year she went to live with the Minicks, she was a paraplegic -- thanks to Hyre, who is now serving a 16-year prison sentence. Instead of a tricycle, she had to settle for something different.

Two days before Christmas 2002, Joe Klusti, a young man from Miller's Rental & Sales, delivered a small customized wheelchair to the Minick home.

``No child should get a wheelchair for Christmas,'' the misty-eyed Klusti said.

Moved by Kelsey's story, Pat Ballard, the wife of former Akron Mayor John Ballard, longed to help the little girl. She called Miller's to inquire about purchasing a bicycle that can be operated with a hand crank.

Pat paid for the snazzy $1,700 lime and green bike that allows Kelsey to zoom past her siblings and schoolmates.

``Doing this... was a personal ministry,'' Pat said.

Flying high

Children are capable of creating marvelous make-believe worlds. Places  where they imagine arriving in a new world aboard a blimp. Truth is, Kelsey has never seen the inside of a gondola, but that's about to change.

For the past few months, the folks at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s Wingfoot Lake hangar, who routinely fulfill dreams such as Kelsey's, have scheduled the little girl for a ride on the blimp. But inclement weather  has kept the airship grounded every time so far.

The postponements have not been a disappointment to Kelsey, because her mother has yet to tell her about the surprise. Otherwise, Sue joked, her daughter would pester the entire family until the moment someone lifted her inside the gondola.

To Ed Ogden, airship spokesman, the story of Kelsey's readoption by a loving couple, who have three grown children and three other daughters with special needs, has concluded with as happy an ending as possible.

``Hopefully, we can put a punctuation at the end of that,'' he said. ``We can't help her walk, but we can make her fly.''

Thank you

zelsey has been hospitalized three times with infections since the stories ran in the spring. Sometimes, it's been simple, everyday annoyances at the root of her illnesses.

For example, the day before her sixth birthday, the family was hosting a party for her. When the guests left, Sue took Kelsey to the hospital. She was running a fever and her eye had swollen shut. A mosquito bite was the suspected culprit.

``I'm not having an IV or a shot,'' Kelsey told the nurses. ``Tomorrow is my birthday and I won't be staying.''

But she remained in the hospital for five days.

For children who have such serious injuries, frequent illnesses are a part of life. But for Kelsey, so are kind gestures, both big and small.

Immediately after the stories appeared in the paper, the Minick family was showered with cards and gifts. Strangers left stuffed animals on the porch of their Suffield Township home. And more than 150 people had telephoned them by the final installment of the four-day series.

A Tallmadge High School student who dressed up as Cinderella for her prom came to the Minick home to visit Kelsey, who loves princesses and Disney characters. She brought a crown for the little girl.

``So many people opened their hearts to Kelsey,'' said Sue Minick. ``We have so much to be thankful for.''

``Yeah, I'm thankful for my family, being in the Nutcracker and Mrs. Ballard,'' Kelsey chimed in. ``And, oh! My stuffed Barney.''

The purple dinosaur was a gift from Chuck and Sue Minick to the Russian-born beauty on the first day they met.

For this very special little girl, dreams do come true.

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