Blye McCallum, decked out in one of his favorite Star Wars T-shirts, shares his infectious smile in a typical classroom setting several weeks ago at Holyoke Elementary School. (Johnson Publications)
Blye McCallum packs mounds of memories into 13 short years
Squeals of excitement for an ornery trick, smiles of endearment for a recognized friend and sheer enthusiasm for life defined the character of Holyoke’s unforgettable Blye McCallum.
Thirteen years of extra-special Blye memories are forever stamped on the hearts of a whole community, who will paint the town orange by wearing his favorite color in his memory May 2. His funeral is scheduled for Wednesday, May 2, at 10:30 a.m. at the Holyoke High School new gym.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was several months old, Blye, with his supportive parents, Gary and Andrea, embraced life to the very fullest. He did not let his wheelchair define him, and his parents made sure his 13 years were chock-full of life experiences.
Blye was on top of the world Thursday, April 26, as he celebrated his 13th birthday and entered his teens. This over-the-top, full-of-life kiddo passed away in his sleep that night.
It was almost unfathomable as the heartbreaking news was learned in the community Friday. Counselors and clergy were available at Holyoke Elementary both Friday and Monday to help in any way they could.
And school was canceled in Holyoke School District May 2, the day of Blye’s funeral — a real tribute to young man who will be missed by all.
“Blye was a bright spot in everyone’s day,” said resource teacher Nancy Miles after consulting with all of her paraprofessionals and compiling all the things they loved most about the sixth-grader.
“He had a smile that lit up the room and a laugh that was contagious. He loved to sing and was always eager for a new adventure. We miss him dearly and will always remember him with a smile,” Miles added.
“He touched a lot of lives,” said Holyoke Elementary Principal Kyle Stumpf, adding, “He could brighten up a room with his presence.”
Stumpf himself will always remember that he got to take Blye to the front door of the school on the day of his birthday last week.
“Things like this are a reminder of how important our day-to-day interaction with kids is,” said Stumpf.
The full impact of this community’s support was felt by the McCallums in the fall of 2010 when fundraisers began for Blye to travel to Düsseldorf, Germany, for stem cell treatment to give him a chance for improving his life.
Orange fliers at various Grainland locations touted “Bushels for Blye,” in which farmers were given the choice to donate a portion of any grain to Blye, who was a kindergartner. One hundred percent of proceeds from each donation was deposited directly into an account for Blye.
A huge benefit at Phillips County Event Center Nov. 12, 2010, found bright orange “BlyesQuest” shirts on a huge crowd of supporters who turned out for the barbecue meal and live/silent auctions to accomplish the $25,000 goal and more to make Blye’s trip to Germany a reality.
Orange shirts were out in full force again in Holyoke Feb. 10, 2011, as Blye, who was thousands of miles away in Düsseldorf, was undergoing his stem cell treatment.
At the young age of 5, Blye had already endeared himself to a community of supporters that wanted only the best for their little buddy.
Gary and Andrea marvel at how tough Blye was. “He never flinched at anything,” said Andrea.
Dr. O, who had seen him since he was 3, knew not to talk to the parents, but to Blye himself as the parents observed. “He didn’t want anything sugarcoated, and we didn’t keep things from him,” said Gary. “He had to endure the treatment; he deserved to know.”
Andrea talks about the matter-of-fact conversations and how grown-up Blye had to be at such an early age.
When he was facing double-casting leg surgery in May of 2014, his parents decided to give him something fun to focus on, and they planned a surprise trip to Disneyland.
Knowing his distaste for getting clothes and bed sheets for gifts, Andrea had teased him by wrapping socks, underwear, bed sheets and more of such items for Blye to open while celebrating Christmas at Aunt Megan’s in Colby, Kansas.
He was a little confused when he started opening Disney-related items, including the trip tickets. When reality hit him, he screamed with elation, much to the delight of his parents and gathered family.
They left for California a couple of days later for a memory-making trip that was a true family vacation just for fun. Blye’s all-time favorite movie, “Cars,” came alive in Cars Land and was one of many highlights.
Born into a family of teasers, Blye learned early on how to dish it out and take it, as well. He squealed with laughter when he taunted his mom with anything grape, knowing she disliked it.
Most recently, he’d had a lot of fun with his new bathroom. The McCallums have lived in their home for 10 years and have made it Blye’s home. They added hardwood floors so he could get around and numerous other touches.
Blye helped with the plans for the bathroom remodel and was excited about the rainfall shower head, his shower chair, lighting, speakers and even a window that could open for him to hear and see the sights and sounds outside.
But the Bluetooth sound system was the source of Blye’s enjoyment. When a visitor entered the bathroom, Gary remotely started a loud blast of music, much to the squealing delight of Blye, ’cause he’d just messed with someone!
“He’s a tuner kid,” said Andrea, saying that music was a huge part of his life. Singing in the shower was his latest fun, and he loved it.
A precious video of the 2016 Zion Lutheran Confirmation Choir includes Blye singing the Hallelujah song with great gusto. He enjoyed school concerts and plays, as well.
His first concert found Blye rocking with country music singer and songwriter Jerrod Niemann. Never knowing a stranger, Blye just flashed his smile at those around him, and they suddenly didn’t care that he was on his dad’s shoulders in the front of the crowd. In fact, they helped get him there.
During the song “Blue Bandana,” Niemann said the song never looked so good, and he gave his guitar pick to Blye. From that time, the McCallums tried to get Blye to a concert each year — either at the Chase County Fair or Cheyenne Frontier Days or some other similar venue.
“If he loved something, he loved it s-o-o-o-o much,” said Gary about his son.
Those “loves” covered a full gamut of experiences and people, and he found humor in everything.
He had the most elaborate Halloween costumes to reflect his favorites. They were custom-made/built by his parents — with his supervision, of course.
That included being monster truck driver Tom Meents in his car Maximum Destruction, a pirate ship, a combine, a duck blind for Duck Dynasty and oh so many more.
Andrea loves the memory of coming home one evening to see Gary and Blye hunting ducks on the Wii, while decked out in their camouflage gear.
Blye loved his family. Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, his dog Sophie — all were rock-solid supporters.
When he was 11, Blye became a big brother, and he loved 15-month-old Bennett, who could crawl all over him and make him laugh.
He loved his same-day twin Karlie, “Bossman” Allyn, Cub Scout buddy Connor, friend Isaiah and fellow video gamers Carter, Braxton and Evan.
Jeep riding with Glen, video gaming, trapshooting, target shooting, prairie dog hunting at Aunt Elaine’s, horseback riding, cooking/grilling, and tubing at Danny and Becky’s brought him great pleasure. While he had an adaptive approach to activities, he embraced them with gusto and never missed a beat.
He lit up with smiles for Star Wars, Denver Broncos, anything fast and loud, car races, monster trucks, visits with Aunt Megan, movies and watermelon smoothies at the Peerless, Cholula hot sauce, Mountain Dew, Reese’s peanut butter cups and root beer.
While he loved the family trip to the Black Hills, he wasn’t too impressed with the faces in the rock (Mount Rushmore)! But he delighted in taking trips in Blye’s Ride, the family’s side-ramp van.
Boy Scouts provided tremendous opportunities for Blye. He had attained his Arrow of Light Award, endured freezing camping trips, participated in Extreme camp, built pinewood derby cars with his dad, planted trees and enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow Scouts.
He started in Cub Scouts in Wray, then helped re-activate the Holyoke troop.
Of his fellow Scouts, Andrea said, “They didn’t see his wheelchair.” In the tree-planting experience at Fort Robinson in northwest Nebraska, they hiked Blye’s chair a mile in to start planting, then another mile during the planting.
“Blye didn’t miss out on anything. No one would let him,” said Gary.
“I wanted him to know he wasn’t just a kid in a wheelchair — and he wasn’t,” added Andrea.
“We didn’t think of where he couldn’t go, but how to get him there,” said Gary.
A regular nighttime routine required Andrea saying the prayer she taught him long ago:
“Father in heaven,
Hear my prayer,
Keep me in your loving care.
Be my guide in all I do,
And bless all those who love me too.”
Then he would proceed to pray for everyone, ending by saying good night to everyone he’d ever known who had passed away, naming them one by one. “Those people are all watching over him now,” said Andrea, with a tear in her eye.
“Thirteen years is not long enough — we miss him so much,” said Andrea. “But he lived for 13 years, and if there was a free minute in any day, he wanted to be going with full force,” she added.