When the switch was flipped at We Care Park Thursday night, it not only illuminated the annual Christmas display but also the memory Chad Keown.

Nonprofit Chad’s Café 3 Count Keowns paid $1,600 for the right to flip the switch to turn on the We Care Park Christmas Lights on Thanksgiving at 6 p.m. Sisters Cheyanne, 11 and Cierra Keown, 9, flipped the switch to memorialized their brother, who died April 12, 2018, from a cardiac arrest, at 17 years old.

“It means so much more to us, to the girls,” their mother, Lisa Keown, said. “It’s not only keeping his memory, and the donations go to We Care, but it’s also a symbol of Chad’s eternal light.”

Chad Keown fought health issues from birth, having his first of three open heart surgeries at one month old. In 2015, he suffered from a pulmonary hemorrhage which cut off oxygen to his brain and caused the loss of two portions of his right lung. Initially, doctors told the Keowns to place the teen in hospice and prepare to say goodbye.

“We said no, that we were going to give him a fighting chance,” she said. “He had to re-learn how to walk, talk and eat.”

During his therapy, Chad Keown was challenged by his doctor, Chuck Deitzen, to a wrestling match, which he won. This earned him the title of “3 Count Keown.”

Lisa Keown said her son had a giving heart. When he was granted the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund, he chose to give back to his school rather than do something special or go on a trip. From his wish fund, he started Chad’s Cafe at Tri-Central High School – a mobile coffee cart that teaches life skills to kids enrolled in the learning-disabilities program.

Money collected from the cart is donated back to the community and supports projects like local food banks. The cafe is still in operation at the school, and Lisa Keown said another Chad’s Cafe is in the works at another school thanks to the nonprofit.

“Chad wanted to have one of these in every school in Indiana,” she said. “It was all his idea. I don’t know how he came up with this concept. He was very much a normal PlayStation, play basketball type of kid.”

Now, when the Keowns make decisions, they think about what their son would want. Even difficult decisions, like choosing to donate his liver and kidneys, were made because that is what Chad Keown would do. He had a philosophy — if you throw a pebble into a pond, you create a ripple effect, people can make waves that can change the world.

The Keowns found out about We Care last year when the Tri-Central Middle-High School Student Council decorated a tree for the We Care Trim-A-Tree auction. Its theme, “Tree of Remembrance” memorialized Chad Keown and fellow student Kaleb Fowler. The tree won the People’s Choice award and went for $3,000 at the auction.

Choosing to buy the right to flip the switch was just another pebble to make a ripple in the pond, Lisa Keown said.

Mike Wyant, the owner of We Care Park, said he is proud to have people donate to We Care in memory of their loved ones. Wyant purchased We Care Park 25 years ago and has been decorating the park ever since. This year will boast more than 200,000 more lights than last year, totaling more than a million lights in the park.

The entire neighborhood is decked out in lights. It takes two-and-half truck loads of extension cords, 100,000 candy canes and countless volunteers, including rentals and help provided by Sunbelt Rentals, to set up the display every year. Lights started going up at the beginning of August this year, Wyant said.

“I was one of 16 children, my wife was one of 13 children,” he said. “This community made us who we are. We want to give back to the community in whatever way we can.”

Visitors can walk or drive through the park for free. Goodwill donations are accepted, and will benefit We Care in full.

Wyant said the park will be handing out 2,000 keys also starting Sunday, and one of them will unlock a vehicle at Erik’s Chevrolet. If a key unlocks the car, it will be that lucky person’s car to keep, paying only sales tax. Wyant said all of the keys are handed out within a few days.

We Care Park, located on Gano Street on the north side of Kokomo, is now open daily from 6 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 25.

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