Community comes together to honor boy whose spirit touched their hearts

The family of Wyatt Schmaltz stands next to a motorcycle holding a teddy bear, which was the first bike out in the Wyatt’s Ride fund-raiser bike run event held Saturday, Aug. 8, in Huntington. More than 300 bikes were registered for the event, along with cars and trucks in support of the Schmaltz family. Pictured (from left) are Deacon Schmaltz, April Schmaltz and Caden Schmaltz. April’s son, Wyatt, 9, died July 24, after a-six-year-long battle with cancer.
The family of Wyatt Schmaltz stands next to a motorcycle holding a teddy bear, which was the first bike out in the Wyatt’s Ride fund-raiser bike run event held Saturday, Aug. 8, in Huntington. More than 300 bikes were registered for the event, along with cars and trucks in support of the Schmaltz family. Pictured (from left) are Deacon Schmaltz, April Schmaltz and Caden Schmaltz. April’s son, Wyatt, 9, died July 24, after a-six-year-long battle with cancer. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Wyatt Schmaltz loved all things superhero and dinosaur related. He was part of Cub Scout Troop 3607, attended Horace Mann Elementary School and was the youngest brother to Cayden Schmaltz, 12, and Deacon Schmaltz, 15.  And from the age of 3, Wyatt was also a cancer patient. But that didn’t stop him from caring about others and always looking to the future.

“He didn’t know a stranger,” says April Schmaltz, Wyatt’s mother.  “Even on his worst days, he always had a smile.”

On April 14, 2014, Wyatt was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. He fought the cancer for six years, with his battle ending on Friday, July 24, 2020. He was 9 years old.

The particular form of cancer that Wyatt was diagnosed with has a 72 percent mortality rate with the first diagnosis, and a 100 percent mortality rate with a second diagnosis. A third diagnosis is unheard of. That is, until Wyatt came along.

“There just aren’t any statistics for a third diagnosis, but he beat it,” says Joe Schmaltz, Wyatt’s father.

Over his six-year fight, Wyatt experienced many highs and lows during treatment and recovery. But when he wasn’t going through treatment, or was feeling healthy enough to participate, Wyatt was making an impact on the community of Huntington.

One of the ways that Wyatt became known in Huntington was his involvement with Camp HERO and the Huntington County Sheriff’s office. Camp HERO is a day camp designed to give young children in Huntington County the opportunity to meet first responders from the area and learn about the work that first responders do for the community.  

Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton has known Wyatt since 2014, which was Wyatt’s first year being involved with Camp HERO.

“Wyatt wasn’t just part of the Schmaltz family, he was part of our public safety family. We kind of adopted him, and he became a part of us,” Newton says.

In Newton’s office, there is a photo of Wyatt and Newton together at Camp HERO. Newton says his choice of photo and choice of placement was intentional.

“That photo of Wyatt always reminds me to be strong. That when you fall down, to dust yourself off, and continue to fight. Every single day I walk out of here, those are the two things that I walk out seeing.”

Wyatt was too young to participate in Camp HERO in 2014 and was also hospitalized, but one of the focuses at the camp that year was to show support to people in the community and to take care of them. That year, Wyatt was deputized as a Huntington County Sheriff, making him the youngest junior deputy in the United States.

“We were actually in the hospital and we weren’t going to make it home, so Terry Stoffel and a couple of other officers drove to Riley hospital and read Watt the oath,” April says. “He repeated it back to Terry…this tiny little kid…and he was sworn in as an officer. And he never let me live it down!”

Wyatt’s father, Joe Schmaltz, remembers a discussion he had with former Sherriff Terry Stoffel the day that Wyatt was sworn in.

“He told me that there are no honorary deputies,” Joe says. “When they [the sheriff] deputizes you, even if you don’t have any training, you are given full powers. So, I thought to myself, well, at least my three-year-old won’t remember how to mirandize me. But we realized that, honestly, my kid could throw me in jail for the weekend and I just wouldn’t have any power to say no.”

“The only time he really used it on us was when he didn’t want to buckle up,” April says. “He would say, no, Mommy, I’m a sheriff. I won’t get in trouble.”

“He knew it was an honor,” Joe says. “He was a more mature kid than he should have been.”

During another year of Camp HERO, Wyatt was introduced to State Police Superintendent Doug Carter. Carter remembers meeting Wyatt at Camp HERO, noting how engaging and un-shy he was.

“Even when he was struggling, he was still so strong,” Carter says. “Seeing him so full of life really put things into perspective.”

Due to treatment, Wyatt often missed school. To act as a stand-in for Wyatt, Riley Children’s hospital provided the family with a large stuffed bear, which Wyatt named after himself. The bear would sit in his seat in his classroom if he could not be in attendance, took his place in a class photo and was also taken to a class field trip to the Shrine Circus. The bear was driven to the circus in a police vehicle, and was taken to different performers, security guards and animals for photos.

On Aug. 8, there was a motorcycle benefit ride held for Wyatt’s family in Huntington, starting at Viking Express and toured Huntington County, finally ending at the VFW Post 2689 in Huntington. The bear was seated on the back of one of over 300 motorcycles that attended the memorial ride.

Many members of the community knew Wyatt not only for his battle with cancer, but for his kind heart and positive attitude. These attributes were part of the reason teachers at Horace Mann Elementary School nominated Wyatt for the Relay for Life Eunice Coates Award in 2019.

“The teachers made us cry! They talked about how he always cared about other people and went to school with a smile, even in the midst of treatment,” April says. “He always stopped to see his teachers to give them a hug. He was never down, never grouchy, always smiling for others.”

Though Wyatt had been in poor health near the time of the 2019 Relay, he was still able to participate. Before walking his first lap around the track, he was able to go up onto the stage and receive his award.

“In pure Wyatt fashion, he sat with us while they talked,” April says, “and then he went up on stage, full smile, jovial, laughing, giving high fives.”

Shortly before he passed away, Wyatt received an unexpected surprise in the form of a hot air balloon ride.

The Dream Catcher Balloon team had to make an unexpected landing, found a vacant lot to land in near the Schmaltz’ home. They landed the balloon and told Wyatt to come over to the basket for a ride.

After making sure it was fine with his mother, Wyatt was able to fly a few feet with the balloon team so they could make a proper emergency landing. According to April, “it completely made his day.”

On the evening of Wyatt’s funeral, Mayor Richard Strick was able to sign a proclamation in honor of Wyatt’s memory. The proclamation mentions how cancer affects so many people across the world, and then how it particularly affected Wyatt, his family, and the community of Huntington.

To end the proclamation, Strick wrote: “Therefore I, Mayor Richard Strick, invite us all to honor Wyatt’s memory by following his example of courage. Committing ourselves to work alongside those who research and treat this disease such as the National Cancer Institute and American Caner Society.

“We also recognize the need to support institutions like Riley’s Children’s Hospital that come alongside families in the scariest situations. May we hold our loved ones a little bit closer tonight and every night as Wyatt’s memory reminds us of what really and truly matters in this world.”

April and Joe Schmaltz plan to find ways to give back to the community and help other children struggling with the same fight that Wyatt did. Possibilities for scholarships in Wyatt’s name and annual benefit events have been discussed.

As sheriff Chris Newton says, “The more we talk about him, the longer he stays with us.”