Some kids wish for a trip to Disneyland. Or for a meeting with a favorite actor or singer.
Not Rachael Clayton.
Back when the Richland woman was 6 years old — she was Rachael Blake then — she asked for a playhouse in the style of a gingerbread house.
She’d seen one at the Columbia Center mall in Kennewick and was captivated.
Rachael spent much of her childhood in hospitals and doctor offices because of an immune deficiency, and she was eligible for a wish through the Wishing Star Foundation.
She told officials from the nonprofit about her dream playhouse, and they jumped into action with help from the Tri-City community.
The “gingerbread house” was delivered in April 1996, after Rachael’s seventh birthday.
It was a sweet story, one that many in the region followed through reports in the Tri-City Herald and other media.
Last week, it got an epilogue.
The playhouse made the journey from the home of Rachel’s parents, John and Nicole Blake, in West Richland — where it was the site of countless tea parties and sleepovers as Rachel grew up — to its new home in the yard of Rachel’s soon-to-be-finished south Richland abode.
It was no simple task. The playhouse stands about 11 feet tall and weighs about a ton.
But it was a meaningful one.
The playhouse was a central part of Rachael’s childhood, she said.
Now 26, Rachael, who manages her immune deficiency through medication and is thriving, hopes it will serve a similar role for her kids.
She’s set to welcome her first child, a son, with her husband, Kevin, later this month.
“It was kind of understood that once we got our permanent home, the gingerbread house had to come,” Rachael said. “It’s even more special now because we really want it for our son.”
‘We were amazed’
Rachel sat with family and friends in a West Richland coffee shop last week, poring over photos of the playhouse’s construction and original installation.
“Look, I did help out,” she said with a laugh, pointing to a photo of herself as a 6-year-old in a flowered dress, hammer in hand.
Across the street, at Metalfab Inc., the playhouse sat strapped to the back of a boom truck — its ride for the journey to Rachael’s new home.
Metalfab helped put in the playhouse 19 years ago. Herb Ganz, one of the Blakes’ neighbors, started the steel fabrication and job site erection company.
The installation was especially tricky because a neighboring property owner wouldn’t let the playhouse cross her land.
Instead, the heavy structure was maneuvered down a hillside, under some power lines and over a retaining wall.
It worked out in the end. Photo after photo shows Rachael as a little girl beaming by her gingerbread playhouse, with its touches of pink and teal, hearts for added flair, a porch and even electricity.
The playhouse was built by woodshop students at Kiona-Benton City High School, under the direction of teacher David Lake. It took a couple of months.
Lake recalled that he was able to line up donations for all the materials needed within an hour or so of taking on the project. Local businesses were eager to help.
On the day of the installation, dozens of people were on hand — from Rachel and her parents and her brothers Peter and Spencer to school friends, neighbors, then-state Rep. Shirley Hankins, Wishing Star Foundation volunteers, the Ki-Be students and business representatives.
“We were amazed at what happened in the community. The whole Tri-Cities — even people outside the Tri-Cities (pitched in to help),” John Blake said. “It really united a lot of people.”
Rachael and Kevin Clayton are educators — Rachael is a music teacher at Tapteal Elementary School, her alma mater; and Kevin is the band and orchestra director at Chiawana High School in Pasco.
As they were designing their new home, they made sure there was a spot in the yard for the gingerbread playhouse.
Rachael got in touch with Lake, who still teaches woodshop at Ki-Be High, and he came to her parents’ home in West Richland to inspect the structure. The paint had faded a bit, but it was in good shape.
“I was like I just left it a week ago,” Lake said.
Ganz, the neighbor who started Metalfab, died a few years back. But his widow, Dorothy, called the company, which agreed to help again.
John Springer, the vice president, wasn’t around 19 years ago for the initial installation.
But “when I heard the story behind (the playhouse) — even if we hadn’t installed it the first time, we would have helped this time,” Springer told the Herald. “It’s a wonderful story and it has a wonderful ending.”
During the past week, Metalfab used its equipment and expertise to move the playhouse in stages from the Blake backyard to its West Richland headquarters. On Thursday, the playhouse took the ride to Clayton’s new home. Clayton and several family members met up at the coffee shop and then formed a procession several cars deep, trailing the gingerbread house.
Soon, it sat on a brand-new concrete slab at the home where Rachael and Kevin will build their family.
Kevin Clayton said he’d heard bits and pieces of the gingerbread house story over the years.
“But I didn’t really understand how big of a deal it was until recently, when we started (the process of) moving it,” he said. “So many people from 19 years ago came to help.”
Like Metalfab. Like David Lake.
The Ki-Be teacher was thrilled to hear from Clayton again, to know she’s doing well, he said.
And he likes to think that news of the playhouse’s move will reach his former students, who came to know and care about Clayton as they worked to fulfill her wish.
With the playhouse move, that wish comes full circle, he said.
The playhouse “can be a lasting memory and wonderful experience for Rachael’s children. I think it’s just marvelous,” he said. “It’s just wonderful.”
Rachael and Kevin Clayton plan to spruce up the playhouse a bit, perhaps do away with the hearts and give it a Bavarian theme — a nod to the site of their wedding in Leavenworth.
No doubt their kids will hear the story of its origins.
Rachael told the Herald she feels grateful — to all the people who helped her and her family, 19 years ago and now.
She wore a wide smile as she watched the gingerbread playhouse lowered down to its slab at her new home.
Does it look right? Is it straight? The Metalfab workers wanted to know.
Clayton nodded her head. “It’s perfect,” she said.