KENNEWICK — For 25 years, a magical train has arrived at the doorstep of children’s hearts calling them on board. It’s a journey best taken at Christmastime on The Polar Express.
Children have experienced Chris Van Allsburg's delightful book through the years when parents — and grandparents — have read from its pages. For some, the story about the little boy who holds onto his belief in Santa has become a Christmas Eve tradition.
But besides families reading together, more than 11,000 children and adults have heard this enchanting tale — often for the first time — because of just one man.
Hank Sauer, a retired educator, takes this Caldecott Medal award-winning storybook to classrooms, community club meetings and even offices, if they can spare the time.
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Hank’s mission is not only to read, but also to leave folks feeling inspired.
“The word that stands out in this book is 'believe', ” Hank says in his warm folksy voice, “and it can be about life in general — yourself, things you can’t see.”
The book struck a chord with Hank when it was first published, and wife Nancy gave it to him just before Christmas.
Even after all these years, he still feels strong emotion when he reads the line, “I reached into my pocket, but the only thing I felt was a hole.”
Missing for the little boy in the story was Santa’s sleigh bell.
The heartbreaking feeling that comes with loss resounded with Hank. A military career opportunity was missed when fate dealt him an unexpected blow — one that changed the course of his life. At the time, his future seemed empty, but the Walla Walla High School grad chose to believe God had something better for his life.
Onboard with optimism and faith, the journey did not disappoint.
Today — and for the past 25 years — it’s a message of hope Hank passes on as he blows a train whistle, plays musical bells and checks a Mickey Mouse gold pocket watch at the appropriate times in the storytelling. Kids — and kids-at-heart — are captivated by the experience.
However, the story doesn’t end here.
Hank always gives a silver bell, hand-tied with white yarn, to every listener — the “first gift of Christmas.” But besides the memorable ornament for the tree, perhaps the best gift this 2009 Kennewick Man of the Year leaves is one of hope: Believe in tomorrow.