Shortly after your Catholic Herald published its March 10 article about Juan Torres, the condition of the 17-year-old Messmer High School student known as the “cricket” and who was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer worsened. On March 11, Juan entered the hospital and the following week had a minor surgery to relieve some pain, according to an email from Jack Hauser, whose role is family ministry and Catholic identity at Messmer. Hauser said in a March 28 email that Juan was recently in hospice care for a few days, but improved, and that two of the three relatives trying to get visas processed to visit arrived from Mexico.
“He started eating again and the knowledge on Wednesday (that) Juan’s grandmother and aunt were able to get visas lifted everybody’s spirits,” Hauser said of Reyna, Juan’s grandmother, and Francesca, Juan’s aunt, who arrived March 24, courtesy of Make a Wish Foundation through Children’s Hospital.
“You can see relief in both Reyna (Juan’s mother) and Juan, but a definite concern and worry in Grandmother,” Hauser wrote.
The family and its spirits were literally lifted March 25, when aspiring pilot Juan and his family took an hour-long plane ride from Milwaukee County’s General Mitchell International Airport to Sheboygan and back.
Related story: Messmer’s ‘cricket’ inspires students, staff
(March 10, 2011)
Phil Stollenwerk, the junior class’ guidance counselor at Messmer High School, asked his father, John J. Stollenwerk, the managing partner of Visionär and part-owner of Pilatus N777CQ, and former owner and CEO of the Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation, if he could get the aspiring pilot up in the plane.
“He said, ‘Sure,’ and he said anytime the plane is available I could take Juan and his family up for a ride,” Phil told your Catholic Herald on Tuesday of the flight in the Pilatus PC-12 N777CQ.
Phil said that the flight left at about 3:30 p.m. with himself and Hauser, and Juan, his mother, his stepfather, Raul, grandmother and aunt, flown by David J. Mauer, president of Visionär and captain of Pilatus N777CQ. They even tried, without luck, to get Juan in the co-pilot seat, according to Phil.
“We tried a couple of times, but his legs were just too weak for him to get into the flight deck, so he ended up sitting in the passenger area in the back. …” Phil said. “He was in really good spirits from the time I saw him and then at the end he was thanking me very much.”
Mauer, who has been flying the plane owned by John and Fred G. Luber, partner in Visionär and chairman of Super Steel Products Corporation in Milwaukee, since he was hired in 2006, said that the Stollenwerks donated the flight that would have cost a regular customer about $1,500. Phil called Mauer on Thursday to check for a date; Mauer said Friday was open and that he would be happy to fly.
Juan was brought to the airplane in a wheelchair, and though he couldn’t sit in the front with Mauer, a headset kept them connected.
“He sat in the back, but we also had a headset on (so) that he could listen to my radio communications with air traffic control,” Mauer told your Catholic
“I certainly feel for Juan and if there’s anything I can do to help him out and show him the airplane and give him a ride, I mean, I was more than happy to do it,” Mauer said. Mauer took Juan and his family, including one nervous aunt, to Sheboygan where he did a low approach over the runway – flying low without landing – before circling back to Milwaukee.
“They were excited,” he said, describing the family’s experience as “maybe a mix of a little bit of amazement and excitement and apprehension.”
Juan is at home resting, according to Phil, who said that Hauser is also working with a few offers from pilots that could have the “cricket” flying again.
In the meantime, Phil was happy to share a nice flight with Juan.
“It was smooth and I just feel lucky that we were able to get out of the clouds and see some land, and I think Juan and his family really enjoyed the flight, and it was great for Jack and myself to take a trip with, have a flight with, Juan,” Phil said.
Back at school, students are raising money for Juan and his family through the sale of green ribbons they’ve made. And, Phil said, they continue to pray for the “Cricket.”
“They’re doing well,” Phil said. “They still miss Juan and they’re still praying for him and they ask about him very, very often, but I think overall they’re doing well given the circumstances.”