Retailers Help Young Chemo Patient 'Slay Cancer Dragon'
Northcenter business owners Jim Bechtold and Arthur Holstein were recently given a citizenship award for taking a 12-year-old boy with cancer under their wing. The two, who co-own the local store, Isle of Man, helped their new friend's imagination soar.
Jim Bechtold was not quite as incognito as he thought.
The 52-year-old and Arthur Holstein co-own the Northcenter store, Isle of Man at 3856 N. Lincoln Ave. The retailers were recently awarded the Patrick Leo McGinnis Award for Corporate Citizenship not for their business—which they described as "a place that cultivates character and creativity"—but for opening their hearts to a 12-year-old boy with cancer.
Bechtold and Holstein met young PJ Bieng at Ribfest on Lincoln Avenue, they said. When they learned of his struggle—and his love for the arts—they knew they had the perfect escape for him.
"Given PJ's talents and interests in art, we thought working with PJ to help celebrate his cancer remission would be a great reward for both parties," Bechtold said to the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce when its representatives bestowed the award upon him.
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In the spring of 2012, Isle of Man began offering art classes for children taught by resident artist Michael Jones—art classes they welcomed PJ into, free of charge.
“Michael and PJ worked together to design a few projects, the first being a symbolic representation of PJ's battle with cancer," Bechtold said. "PJ envisioned himself as a knight slaying a dragon, and so he and Michael created a 7-foot knight in armor, holding a sword named 'Chemo,' with his medications painted onto the blade, slaying the cancerous dragon."
Bechtold beams when he talks about the project, and PJ, and says he never anticipated that his actions would take center stage.
"We were doing this for ourselves and what's important to us," he said, after receiving the award at the end of October. "It is just very much in the nature of Arthur and myself."
When he recalled the most impacting moment in his relationship with the 12-year-old during the past six months, his eyes began welling with tears. He said PJ often thanked he and Holstein for their kindness, saying he didn't know what he would do if he hadn't met them.
"One day, he looked at me and said, 'I don't know if cancer was the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to me,'" Bechtold said.
Northcenter Chamber President Simon Stein said it's Bechtold and Holstein's selflessness that made honoring them with the award a must.
"For no gain to themselves or the store, they took this child under their wing," he said.
This year was the first annual for the corporate citizenship award which celebrates achievement and outstanding acts, chamber representatives said.
It's named after Chicago Police Officer Pat McGinnis, who works in the police department's eighth district but previously in Ald. Gene Schulter's office and with the neighborhood Boys and Girls Club.
"I'm honored and humbled," he said. "It could be named after anyone. It's more about the good work Arthur and Jim did and it's great to be a part of that."
Bechtold said he looks forward to seeing PJ grow with each session and encouraged those in the community to "go out and help someone."
"It's important that everyone understand that he was a gift to us," he said.