Buddy & Jayden: reasons for the season

You likely know about Youngstown’s Jayden Barber.

You probably don’t know about Austintown’s John “Buddy” Hull.

At The Vindicator, we’re blessed to encounter a ton of stories throughout the year. We work hard to get as many as we can into print — whether they are infuriating or invigorating.

The latter stories are among the best parts of my job — because we encounter so many great moments.

At this time of year, when so many of us look for reason and reflection, I enjoy pausing at those moments of invigoration.

In Jayden and Buddy, there is plenty worth the pausing.

Jayden made our front pages; and about the same time, Buddy made it to my email files, but it is just as rewarding a story as Jayden’s.

Many times this year, I found myself going back to both stories.

For the past 14 Septembers, said Buddy’s daughter, Kelly Rozzi, he has competed in the Kielbasa Classic golf tournament in Canton. It is a three-day tournament that the 72-year-old has never won, but he enjoys the time with friends and his son, Dave Hull of Columbiana.

Cancer got in the way this summer. On July 3, he called Kelly to deliver the news. “My world stopped at that moment,” Kelly said, “and so many thoughts were going through my mind.”

But Buddy stayed positive, she said, getting his new life in order, and with one goal:

The Kielbasa teed off Sept. 21, and he needed to be there.

His summer was six chemo treatments, 36 radiation treatments, a feeding tube, weight loss and more.

He maintained his normal Mondays and Thursdays golf schedule throughout. It was grueling.

“A friend voiced concern that maybe he should not be golfing because it was too much for him,” Kelly said. “I explained that golf is all he has right now, and that is what is keeping him going.”

It did.

On Sept. 20, he had his last treatment; on Sept. 21, he teed off in his 15th Kielbasa.

After Day 1, he was one shot off the lead. But Kelly said he did not get too excited because usually by Day 3, he always faded into the pack.

Not this year.

That Sunday evening, Kelly got the call: Buddy was the 2012 Kielbasa champ.

Yet, his biggest 2012 victories were still to come: He is cancer free, and in November, was able to kick the smoking habit.

The quest for life for Tim and Charlee Barber has been as personal as Buddy’s.

But they have been in full view of the Valley with their son, Jayden, 5. This summer, they tried to pack in a lifetime of activities with terminal cancer hanging over him. Their story ignited an intense community following that continues today, but, thankfully, a tad less intense.

“It was overwhelming at times trying to manage [the attention],” said Charlee. “There were some bumps along the way [with the awareness]. But I would not have done anything different.”

She believes the attention was as therapeutic for the Valley as it was for her family.

“Youngstown gets a bad rap, and it’s not accurate,” she said. “The response to Jayden serves as an example that this is not a bad place to live.”

The response was significant for the “Batman” fan. Gifts, trips, well-wishes and local experiences were constant. “Jayden’s Warriors” is 30,000 people strong on Facebook.

It peaked in late August when a crowd celebrated Jayden at Boardman Middle School. A Batman light signal flashed into the sky with a crowd cheering on, and Batman arrived.

Or it may have peaked in September when the family was invited to Los Angeles to hang out with the real “Batman,” Christian Bale.

There have been many peaks.

But Charlee said just having Jayden here for Christmas is the best present.

He wasn’t even supposed to make it to his fifth birthday Sept. 17. (Bale called, she said.)

But he beat it and continues to do so, she said.

The outlook remains bright. He’s still on many pills and will be for some time; he’s struggling to keep his right arm.

But he’s lost all the weight that steroids induced, and he will soon begin art lessons with his grandpa.

They now talk about next year and the year after. This summer, they talked only about next week, and the week after.

We encounter many struggles in life.

And you often need a reminder or two that struggles are part of life, and whatever you have to endure, others are enduring far worse.

Jayden and Buddy were my reminders in 2012.

Merry Christmas to all.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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