A small organization known for granting special wishes to seriously ill children in La Crosse is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Whether it’s a weekend trip to the Wisconsin Dells, a trip to see the Brewers in action or a new pet hamster, the Wishland Pony Express is an all-volunteer organization that has granted more than 125 of these kinds of wishes for children with serious medical conditions at the two local hospitals of Gundersen Lutheran and Mayo Clinic Health system.
Sometimes, the smallest and simplest of wishes could have a big impact years after they come true.
For Ben Martens of Onalaska, life is all about what you make of it.
“I've been in this chair my whole life,” said Martens. “I keep living to live my life the best way I know how.”
Born with cerebral palsy, growing up wasn't always easy.
“I always had kids staring at me, or maybe they were afraid of me because of my chair,” said Martens.
But one small act of kindness would change his life.
When Ben was 12 years old he learned the Wishland Pony Express organization of La Crosse was going to grant him one wish.
“I was so excited,” said Martens.
At the time, Bob Milisch and other members of the Coulee Region Clown Club had just started the WPE organization.
“We just had some money that we wanted to do some good with,” said Milisch. “It gives them a day, a weekend or whatever of kind of forgetting about their issues.”
For Martens, the hard part was figuring out what to wish for.
“Bob and I were talking and we couldn't think of anything, so he said, ‘Why don't we make you a clown?’” said Martens.
And so it was granted -- the makeup, the wig and the big bright-red nose. It was a chance for Martens to be a member of the Coulee Region Clown Club.
“My wish was to make friends, and that was one of the best things to ever happen to me,” said Martens.
Martens would spend many years with the club, traveling, meeting people and making friends until the club ended a few years ago, but the memories go beyond the bright-colored costumes for these two clowns.
“I met one of my best friends,” said Martens.
“Ben has become a friend of mine for 26 years after granting his wish,” Milisch.
The only thing the two said they probably don't get along on is football. Martens is a big Vikings fan, and Milisch is a Packers fan.
For these two friends, the hope is that more wishes like Ben's can be granted so that all kids have a chance to feel special.
The organization grants about five wishes a year.
The organization is looking to increase its endowment fund.
To make a donation to Wishland Pony Express, contact the La Crosse Community Foundation.