Ceremonies at Freedom naming post office after John Challis

Written by Mike White on .

By Mike White | Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 12:30 p.m.

John Challis is the former Freedom High School athlete whose courageous battle with cancer became a national story two years ago before John died in August of 2008. He was 18. Today in Freedom was another example of how his story and legacy continues to live.

Freedom officially nameds its post office the John Scott Challis Jr. Post Office. Ceremonies were held today at the post office.

U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire had the idea of naming the post office after Challis. Altmire, a few other politicians from Beaver County, family and friends were on hand for the ceremonies today. Altmire introduced the bill for the post office name to Congress in February of 2009 and it passed unanimously. The bill became law when it was signed by President Barack Obama on Aug. 19 of last year, the one-year anniversary of John's death. Pictured, from clockwise top left, is Altmire, John's parents (Scott and Gina) and sister, Lexie. They surround a plaque that designates the post office's name in memory of John.

John's life message was "Courage + Believe = Life." His quote in a Post-Gazette story of "life ain't about how many breaths you take, it's what you do with those breaths" was recounted a few times today.

If you want an example of how Challis' story hasn't been forgotten, consider this: Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon still has a Challis jersey framed in his office. Today, at the post office ceremonies, a letter was read to the crowd - from Maddon.

Inside the post office today was a painting sent to the Challis family. "Someone we don't even know from Tennessee sent it," Scott Challis said.

It was a painting of John holding his baseball hat with the "Courage + Believe = Life" on the bill of the hat. A picture of the painting is to the left.

"A man took a frame from a story ESPN did on John and did a painting of it," Scott Challis said. 

But the post office is doing more to honor John Challis. For a month they will have a special "cancellation stamp" to use. Also, Mark Wahl of the Freedom post office has commemmorative stamps ready that the post office wants to sell, possibly through the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation.

The foundation was a dream of John's and it got started before John passed away.

I was lucky enough to tell John's story in the Post-Gazette in May of 2008. If I could get a little personal here, I can give you examples of how John's message and story has not been forgotten. First, my youngest son is 14 and plays baseball. After a few practices early this year, he left his glove on the kitchen table over night. As much as I would have loved to have breakfast with the smell of baseball glove leather, I wanted the glove in the garage with the rest of my son's equipment. So I picked up the glove and couldn't help but notice my son had "C + B = L" written on the glove. And he never met John Challis.

Another personal example: My son is a freshman at Xavier University. He and his roommate (who is from Pittsburgh) were on an intramural basketball team that was playing for the school championship in late March. I was in Indianapolis and doing a story on the Butler University team's run to the Final Four and Cincinnati is only two hours from Indy. So I decided to take the drive to Cincinnati and watch the intramural championship. The team won. After the game, I saw my son's roommate take off his jersey. He was wearing a "Courage + Believe = Life" T-shirt that was sold at a golf outing for John's foundation. I was floored. This was an intramural game. My son's roommate never met John, either, but knew of his story and was apparently inspired. He said he wears the shirt often.

So, it appears John Challis won't soon be forgotten and his inspiration might be felt by many for a long time.

But speaking of John's foundation and golf outing. The third annual outing will be Monday, June 28 at Chartiers Country Club. Information on the outing is available on the Courage for Life Foundation site or you can register by calling Chartiers at 412-931-5360.

John's dream in his final few months was to have a foundation raise money so that other ill children could experience sporting experiences like he did.

I can still see John on the couch at his family's home, on the day I went to say goodbye to him. We talked for a little and I thanked him for being a hero. Forever the one to say thank you, John, barely able keep his eyes open, said, "Mr. White. Just thank you for telling my story."

His story should be remembered for a long time. Considering everything today at the post office, I know John is somewhere, using his favorite saying, in his terrific Pittsburgh accent, "This is awesome!"

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