Editor's Note: This column by Steve Flairty first appeared in KyForward.com.
It was over twenty years ago, and Lexington’s Fox 56 veteran anchor/reporter Marvin Bartlett scrambled to piece together a short news item about a cancer-stricken boy in a local hospital. It was a hectic time in the newsroom — certainly not an unusual thing — but it was also “March Madness” tournament time for the Kentucky Wildcat men’s basketball team, and that meant the obligatory extra dose of reporting on such a popular subject. Viewers demanded it.
But the story about the child, Jarrett Mynear, immediately — and powerfully — touched Marvin, who calls himself “a softie.” But it brought much more than a moistening of the eyes and soft feelings; it was awe-inspiring for him, and it would prove to be likewise for a legion of others, in part through the efforts of Marvin’s burning desire to share the narrative.
“I saw it as a really great story that that wasn’t going to get much coverage,” noted Marvin. “It was an injustice to put that on the air and forget about it, as we do with so many stories . . . here today, gone tomorrow.”
Marvin’s local television coverage about Jarrett eventually made it to the production staff at the The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and Jarrett later appeared on the show, helping launch his winning appeal in a huge way.
At age two, Jarrett was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. The condition resulted in years of grueling treatment. He was in an out of hospitals, endured countless needle pricks and sessions of chemo therapy. Medical staff doing their jobs perpetually hovered around him and boredom was a frequent visitor; a normal childhood, consequently, was out of the question.
Jarrett, however, was both a fighter and a young person possessing a tremendously compassionate spirit.
While in a Seattle hospital and undergoing a stem cell transplant — a bold treatment, indeed — Jarrett enjoyed weekly visits from those he called “The Pink Ladies.” They were volunteers who brought toys to the children. He found the experience fun, a nice distraction from the tedium of life in a hospital room, and he mentioned that it “gave him something to look forward to.”
When Jarrett got back to Lexington, he wanted to see the idea used at his hospital, hoping for other children to experience his joy. With the support of his parents, he founded Jarrett’s Joy Cart at the Lexington Children’s Hospital, an initiative that now has brought “something to look forward to” to thousands there and later to chapters in Louisville and Orlando, Florida, as well as smaller projects in places around Kentucky and beyond, with individuals and groups like Cub Scouts and ones from churches and schools enthusiastically supporting the effort.
Marvin’s 256-page book, The Boy Who Delivered Joy (Gatekeeper Press, 2019), tells the amazing account of Jarrett, son of Doug and Jennifer Mynear, from the very beginning. It is a meticulously updated version of his first offering about the boy, The Joy Cart: The True Story of a Boy and His Toys, released in 2002. It’s a product of hundreds of hours of interviews with Jarrett and those in his orbit, and especially his mother.
“The book was easy to write,” noted Marvin, “because Jennifer gave me so many anecdotes and extra tidbits.”
Besides relating the account of the origin of Jarrett’s Joy Cart, the new book shares a host of ways Jarrett’s legacy has sent out positive “ripples,” as Marvin calls them, likening it to the effect of one jumping in a swimming pool and causing waves to move outward in all directions. Jarrett’s jump, said Marvin, was like a “cannonball.”
Not the least of those ripple effects is the emergence of DanceBlue, termed by its web site, “a University of Kentucky student-run organization that fundraises year-round and culminates in a 24-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon.” The money raised goes to the DanceBlue Children’s Hospital, in Lexington, and over thirteen million dollars has been assigned to that purpose since its establishment in 2006.
Jennifer, along with Susannah Denomme, came up with the idea for the marathon dance fund-raiser and pitched it to student leaders at the university. The proposal was enthusiastically accepted and it thrives today, an inspiring tribute to Jarrett’s wish to see the hospital facilities upgraded to give better service to children and their families.
There are many more good things that transpired because of the influence of the boy who delivered joy. A nine-year-old boy from Missouri, Ethan Hampton, started a similar project, called Joy Cart by Ethan in St. Louis. Jessica Abo, a journalism student at Northwestern University, went through lots of red tape to establish Jarrett’s NU Joy Cart at a Chicago hospital. Seven-year-old Leah Nash, a leukemia patient, helped raise $2,000 and was thrilled to go with Jennifer on a toy shopping spree to buy for Jarrett’s mission of kindness. One can check out the book to read about other examples of joy spread. They’re inspiring accounts and give ideas to those interested in making their own contributions.
The future newsman grew up in West Virginia on an 80-acre farm, but admits, grinning, “I was never a good farm boy, but I liked living in the country.” His brother, however, embraced the life.
Marvin was single until his forties. He now lives in Jessamine County with his wife, Elizabeth, a part-time grant writer at the Horse Park Foundation in Lexington, along with their two children, eighth-grader Cooper, a boy, and a girl, fifth-grader Eliza. The Bartlett family “likes to travel Kentucky and see its sites,” said Marvin.
Reflecting that interest in his adopted state, he started producing short documentaries a few years ago for Fox 56 called “Spirit of the Bluegrass.” He finds stories that are “fun. . .people features” and “the kinds of stories I want to do,” he said with his always smiling countenance. All of the work in the series comes outside his eight-hour work day; he produces them and does it completely by himself, and he considers the term “Bluegrass” to mean coverage all over Kentucky, meaning a good deal of travel.
But the Kentucky subject of which Marvin Bartlett will always be most enamored is the Jarrett Mynear narrative of joy that serves as a sterling legacy for a child who refused to be beaten by a terrible disease, choosing, instead, to uplift others.
To contact Marvin for more information about the book or to request him to speak at your group gathering, email email@example.com.
Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.”