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“Here’s a boy born with Down Syndrome who is going to have his name on a building,” Gene said. “That’s a big deal.”
Executive Director Krissy Crites announced the naming of the Johnny Stallings Recreational Reach Center during the 2014 Snowflakes and Diamonds Gala, held at Love Civic Center on Saturday.
Gene said when he and his wife were told their baby was a “mongoloid” at birth, they were advised to put him in an institution.
“Obviously, we didn’t listen to the advice,” he said. “We did the best we could do, even if we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Johnny died at the age of 46 on August 2, 2008, from congenital heart disease. Gene said it was “the saddest day of my life.” He remembered checking on his son, who was having trouble breathing.
“I said, ‘Johnny, how do you feel?’” he said. “He said, ‘I fine. I fine.’ He passed away the next day.”
He said those raising children with disabilities may have some tough times, but they “will be in the presence of God eventually” for their love and effort.
“Ruth Ann and I can’t thank you enough,” he told the crowd. “What a joy. He would have loved being here.”
Everett Elementary School second-grade teacher Jennifer Haynie was named general education teacher of the year, and Aikin Elementary’s Susan Dicken was named the special education teacher of the year.
The Phillips, Denison and Griffin families were named volunteer group of the year in honor of more than a decade of service to the organization. Brooke Crawford was named volunteer of the year.
The evening also included live and silent auctions and entertainment provided by Blackland.
“It turned out great; I couldn’t have been happier,” Crites said. “I’m proud to be part of this community that gives like they have.”