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Prelude to a wish: First-grader takes imaginary flight to Disney World before the real trip

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota and St. Philip’s School teamed up Monday to throw Ben Frauenholtz, 7, a party to mark the end of his three-year chemotherapy treatments. Ben and his classmates had a lunchtime pizza party, preceded by a pretend airplane flight from Minnesota to Orlando, Fla. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Flight 429 left St. Philip’s School at 12:45 p.m. Monday, landing in Orlando, Fla., about a half-hour later.

Its passengers — all first-graders with first-class seats — were escorted off the plane by princesses, who welcomed them to Disney World with magical coins.

It was a dream come true.

Or a wish.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota and St. Philip’s teamed up Monday to throw 7-year-old Ben Frauenholtz a party to mark the end of his three-year chemotherapy treatments.

Ben, along with his 4-year-old sister Greta, and their parents, Todd and Kerry, will soon spend a week in Disney World, fulfilling Ben’s special wish.

“He’s very excited,” said mother Kerry, noting Ben has never been to Disney World.

Ben, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, completed chemotherapy about six months ago, she said.

His smile, ear to ear, was apparent throughout the afternoon Monday as he approached a large cardboard airplane replica.

He bypassed security — John May — with no problem, though a teacher was questioned for trying to smuggle a pair of keys on board.

The flight attendant — Polly Scotland — welcomed passengers onto the plane along with a special assistant, Ethan Pickett, a former Make-A-Wish grantee himself.

The pilot, Mitch Webb, welcomed passengers to Flight 429 and announced it would be “sunny and beautiful” all the way to Orlando.

The students, sitting in chairs arranged to simulate an airplane flight, laughed and sang together as they watched their in-flight movie, a VeggieTale episode about King George.

Princesses Grace and Abby

Once the plane touched ground — a perfectly smooth, flawless landing — two very special princesses escorted passengers off the plane and handed out magical gold coins.

“Welcome to Disney World,” said the Lauderbaugh sisters, Grace, 9, and Abby, 13, in full princess wear with hair and makeup done by Professional Salon Academy in Bemidji.

“Where all your dreams come true,” Abby added.

The two know firsthand what the Frauenholtz family is about to experience.

The sisters spent a week in Disney World last April courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation as it fulfilled a wish for Grace, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition in which a person has extremely fragile bones.

“We swam with dolphins at Discovery Cove,” Abby said.

Grace added that another favorite part was riding Expedition Everest, the new Yeti-inspired roller-coaster.

But both agreed that staying at Give Kids The World village, a 70-acre nonprofit storybook village in Florida, was a highlight itself. Give Kids The World, which provides housing for children and their families on wish-fulfilling Florida trips, celebrated Christmas every Thursday.

The girls said Mayor Clayton, a large bunny character, also tucked them into bed each night.

Even Pluto and Mary Poppins stopped by.

“The whole trip seemed like a dream,” said dad Scott Lauderbaugh. “It still seems like a dream.”

The girls, still beaming from the trip 12 months later, said they were thrilled to be able to send off another Make-A-Wish recipient and his family to make their own magical memories.

Mary May, a local Make-A-Wish volunteer, coordinated plans for the St. Philip’s party. She said the goal is to incorporate past Wish grantees into such events, but sometimes, it isn’t possible.

But Monday, she and other adults stood back and watched as princesses Abby and Grace twirled in their dresses and talked to Ben about the fun he was about to have.

“That’s my little tomboy,” said dad Scott, watching Grace. 

Princesses Abby Lauderbaugh, 13, left, and Grace Lauderbaugh, 9, walk with Ben Frauenholtz, 7. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneera