On any normal day, you could find little Travis Church scoring goals on the soccer field or riding his bicycle around the neighborhood. He was a normal, happy, fun-loving 8-year-old kid who found joy and beauty in the small things, but his life drastically changed in the blink of an eye.
Travis’ stepfather, Bryan, says his wife Tammy noticed something was wrong when Travis started to get constant headaches. They took him to the doctor who ran a few tests but didn’t find anything.
As they were decorating their Christmas tree, Travis said he didn’t feel well and went to lay down. About 30 minutes later, Travis suffered a massive stroke and was rushed to the hospital. From there, Travis was flown to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland OR, and that’s when they found out the devastating news that would shatter their worlds—Travis was diagnosed with brain and spine cancer. Doctors went in and removed a portion of the cancer, but that was not enough.
Travis bravely fought for his life over the next three years. Half of his skull had to be removed because of the swelling on his brain, he suffered over a million seizures, had to constantly live with being poked with needles, could no longer enjoy his favorite foods or sports, and spent a lot of time in the hospital. After a hard-fought, 3-year battle, Travis passed away at the age of 11 on Mother’s Day.
“Travis was an amazingly sweet and kind child who never complained,” says Bryan.
Bryan says his stepson was more focused on seeing the beauty in his life and being thankful in spite of the pain he suffered every day. In fact, Bryan says Travis’ last words were “thank you.”
“He always seemed to find a way to make things work with love,” says Bryan.
Bryan is a professional photographer who captures many beautiful moments through the lens of his camera. He had to put his career on hold to deal with the grim reality he faced at home.
It took about 30 minutes each day to prepare medications for Travis. Bryan and Tammy were making constant trips to the hospital, overseeing the care from nurses, caregiver and therapist were in and out of the home, all while continuing to take care of their other children as well.
After Travis passed away, Tammy and Bryan were overwhelmed with grief. They tried to pick up the pieces so that they could continue to care for their family, but their amazing strength would only go so far.
Travis’ untimely death was not the only tragedy that this family was facing at the time. Life had dealt them one devastating blow after another. Bryan says that within two years, Travis’ biological father died of cancer, a friend was murdered, Bryan’s father passed away, and shortly after Travis died, his mother suffered a massive stroke and won’t recover. The unbearable devastation left Bryan’s emotional well-being in tatters. He slipped into a dark place and was desperately trying to find his way out of it.
While he was trying to grip some sense of normalcy in his life, he came up with the perfect way to honor Travis’ memory: he would build the ultimate SteelMaster garage as a memorial.
He called a few companies and started to gather some information about constructing a building, and the first person he talked to was National Sales Manager John Deere.
“He gave me a baseline of what to expect in the industry,” says Bryan.
John was unaware of the situation, but treated Bryan like he does every customer, with care.
“Others were just so pushy and rude. It was just incredible,” says Bryan. “He really cared more about educating me rather than trying to shove something down someone’s throat.”
The process had become very frustrating for Bryan. Trying to cope with everything while also taking on this new project was challenging initially for him, but he was determined to keep on going.
During Travis’ last moments, he made a special request of Bryan before he passed. He wanted to make sure that he was not forgotten, and Bryan intended to make good on that promise.
”I did not want to give up on doing this building for Travis,” says Bryan.
He says John’s approach is what convinced him to continue his journey despite what he was going through.
“It feels like everyone at SteelMaster is more focused on being a family than trying to make a sale,” explained Bryan.
Bryan is in the beginning stages of constructing the building. He plans to make this steel garage a place where he can enjoy the beautiful memories he created with his beloved Travis and his way of sharing his love of beauty with the world.
He plans to spread Travis’ ashes in the foundation before the first arch is even erected. Once the building is up, Bryan says he will then line the walls with special steel plates that will display engraved images of Travis and those who greatly impacted his life while he was here.
“This garage is our tribute,” says Bryan.
Not only will this steel garage serve as a reminder of just how amazing Travis was, it will also be a place where more memories will be created. Bryan intends to use the garage to work on vehicles and other projects, and he also hopes it will be a place to inspire. He and his younger stepson Brandon will be able to create, repair, build and grow together.
“It won’t just be a place where you put your car, it will be a place that will facilitate growth,” explained Bryan.
Bryan’s mission is to encourage others to grow through the lessons he learned from Travis.
“He taught me that in life, there’s beauty everywhere,” says Bryan. “He enlightened us.”