Just as the definition of family varies from person to person, for the Walker family of Austintown, theirs would certainly extend to include the innumerable medical staff, teachers, friends, fellow parishioners, and participants and patrons of the annual Joshua Walker Car and Motorcycle Show.
In addition to daughters Stefanie and Chelsea, Frank and Sandy Walker are the parents of the late Joshua Walker, who, following a lifelong struggle against a rare and debilitating disease, passed away on June 10.
Sharing that watching their initially healthy boy suddenly revert from walking to crawling, the Walkers recalled that his diagnosis of Metachromatic Leukodystrophy came at 18 months of age and that within a few months, their son had lost the ability to walk, talk, and eventually chew or swallow.
Joining in memoriam of Joshua Walker, the members of Emmanuel Community Church will host the 14th annual Joshua Walker Car and Motorcycle Show on Sunday, Sept. 30.
The fellowship of the Emmanuelle Community Church came to the rescue shortly thereafter, hosting what would be the first annual Joshua Walker Car and Motorcycle Show.
Joshua nearly tripled the life expectancy given his parents upon his diagnosis, longevity they attribute to love, God, the support of their church family and the monetary assistance from the annual event that paid for costly, yet necessary supplements for Joshua.
When first diagnosed, "What do I do," Joshua's mom said she asked of the doctor. Tearfully recalling his response, she said he told her "you can keep him home - protect him from the world - or you can make him a part of it." Joshua's life has served as a testament to the decision the Walker's made as he became very much a part of the world around him.
Initially, Joshua enjoyed the kinship of the Leonard Kirtz School and eventually, due to his increasing medical issues, was home schooled, yet continued to take part in church plays, loved music and was an active member of a loving family.
"The kids he grew up with didn't see a disability," said his mom.
Following a year of health setbacks including pneumonia, Joshua's immune system became more compromised than ever. While he improved briefly in May, enough for his dad to surprise his mom by showing up at church on Mother's Day with Joshua and his nurse, it became obvious that Joshua's body was weakening.
Sharing that her husband first spoke with Joshua, telling him, "If you're tired, it's OK to go home," Sandy Walker said she had a similar conversation with her son on Sunday, June 10, and that just two hours later, Joshua was gone.
"It sounds like it was what he needed to hear," said Joshua's dad.
Josh was taken to the hospital that evening, and as the first to arrive, their oldest daughter received the news that Joshua had died.
According to Sandy Walker, it was while their daughter was breaking the news to them that off in the distance they could see fireworks from a local festival. "That's when we decided we wanted to celebrate his life," she said of her son.
With all of his services held at the church that spent a lifetime in support of him and his family, Joshua's celebration included a release of balloons which his mom shared fatefully rose in the sky, forming the letter "J."
"We were blessed with Joshua," said Sandy Walker, adding, "He fought a long time to stay with us. We know he's in a better place. He has a perfect body now. We know we're going to see him again."
The celebration of Joshua Walker's life will continue as Emmanuel Community Church, 6512 Kirk Road, will host the 14th annual Joshua Walker Car and Motorcycle Show on Sunday, Sept. 30. The purpose of this year's event is twofold, serving as both a memorial for a young man who brought together a community, and one from which funds will be used to establish a nonprofit organization to help kids like him.
The event will be held rain or shine from 2 to 7 p.m. and in addition to a huge display of cars and motorcycles, will include a DJ, hair cut-a-thon, pony rides and petting zoo, trophies and dash plaques, and concessions.
A larger than life remembrance, the fete will be attended by the Walker family -- a family certain to include Joshua's former medical staff, teachers, friends, the Walker's fellow parishioners, and participants and patrons of an annual event which will now envelop yet another family into the loving arms of the community.