By JENNIFER WEAVER
CEDAR CITY – While the lights in the Southern Utah University Sharwan Smith Center ballroom were off, there was sniffling and sobs from those viewing a large screen set-up there.
When the lights flipped on, men, women and children could be seen wiping away tears.
The cause was a community pajama party, sponsored by the Cedar City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Cedar City & Brian Head Tourism Bureau, that brought more than 100 people together to view the NBC-Universal reality show “Three Wishes” that featured Cedar City.
“I’ve been volunteering at The Happy Factory, in fact I volunteered there today with two of my five children, and to see their faces as they watched the show and learned where the toys they made were going was wonderful,” said Allison Sproul. “They just stared at the screen and it was neat.”
The Happy Factory, a non-profit wooden toy company, was granted one of three wishes by the television series. The Cedar City Fire Department and Nicole Rasmussen were the other recipients. Filming took place in August for the segment that aired Friday.
When the host of the show, Amy Grant, announced the segment was in Cedar City, the crowd broke out in thunderous applause and cheers, followed by an array of emotions right up until the running of credits.
The plight of Rasmussen – a mother who’d lost her sight from a bacterial infection in her brain – instantly turned the joviality into compassion. The show showed her climbing a rock surface and crossing busy downtown Main Street. Her wish was to take her young daughter, Payton, to a park to play in her own neighborhood.
When she was granted the play park and read the Braille lettering that revealed it had been named after her daughter, she shed tears of gratitude, which were shared with those at the party via the TV screen.
That crying was soon replaced with laughter when Donna Cooley of the Happy Factory gently reminded Grant to “hold tight” as she pressed a wooden truck against a sander. The music artist responded, “I will,” only to have the toy fling up and narrowly miss her head.
However, tears welled again when Charlie Cooley and his wife received a new workshop in Salt Lake City complete with $50,000 in shipping costs paid for by Federal Express. They also received the chance to meet some Nicaraguan children who received their toys.
A new box truck valued at $40,000 was also donated by International to the Factory and is on display in the parking lot at SUU. It’s appearance was made possible from Mark Kohler, who drove the vehicle from Las Vegas.
“NBC granted wishes that will enable all the recipients to keep perpetuating love and give gifts like they’ve been doing and want to continue doing,” said Kohler.
When a $1.6 million 100-foot aerial platform truck and a 4,000 gallon water tanker for the fire department rolled in across the screen from a wish made by 9-year old Michaela Pickering, Yvonne Wood beamed.
The little girl credited the fire department for saving her life when she put the skills taught to her to use when she escaped the burning home of a friend. That unselfish example is why Wood’s company, Liberty Mutual, followed suit and donated the new vehicles, she said.
“I am so proud to be a part of this whole thing, that my company would fork out a large amount of money to the Cedar City Fire Department, that is so deserving,” said Wood. “This event, the show and the people here, prove just how special Cedar City is.”
NBC renewed the unscripted series also on Friday for six more episodes, bringing the total number of episodes ordered to sixteen. The announcement was made by Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment.
Originally published November 5, 2005