Celebration of life is mom’s gift to terminally ill son

February 21, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Joyce Moore (standing), hosts a party for her son Michael Stallman, 51, who is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. As part of the celebration of his life, an Eastside Fire & Rescue crew decked out Stallman in firefighting gear. Photos by Tom Corrigan

Behind her, a party is in full gear, with lots of noise and conversation, a clown blowing up balloons and younger children racing around a public room in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Duthie Hill Road in Issaquah.

For her part, Joyce Moore herself is in a clown costume, as is her son and the party’s guest of honor, Michael Stallman. Moore tells a visitor the event is a celebration and nothing less. It is a happy occasion, she insists.

“It is a celebration of Michael’s life,” Moore said.

Stallman, who will be 52 in March, has Down syndrome. He has survived health issues including open-heart surgery and a blood clot.

“He breezed right through it all,” Moore said.

In October, Stallman was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. Refusing to mar the atmosphere at her son’s party, Moore said with only the slightest cringe that her son has only a few months left. She got the idea for the remembrance party after mulling over what to do for Stallman’s upcoming birthday.

“He’s always been such a happy guy,” she said, touching on a theme that would come up again and again among celebrants.

For his part, Stallman didn’t have a lot to say. A button on his shirt stated, “To Know Me is to Love Me.” Asked if that is true, he smiled and nodded.

Now living in Sammamish, Moore spent many years as a nanny for children in the area.

“We became kind of like family,” Mark Disalle said.

He and wife Peggy Disalle described Moore as a nanny and kind of a grandmother to their children. Mark Disalle spent much of the party pushing Stallman around in his wheelchair while Peggy Disalle used her cellphone to videotape people’s remembrances of Stallman. The couple both said that Stallman and their children had become well known to each other over the years.

“Michael has been a big part of their lives,” Peggy Disalle said.

“He’s kind of a friend and an older brother,” said Emma Radich, 15.

Moore was also her nanny when she was younger.

Stallman is an uncle to Brittney Townsend, another party attendee. She said Stallman would walk to her elementary school regularly, often bringing candy bars for the two of them, candy apparently taken secretly from a stash in his home.

“He’s the most honest and genuine person I’ve ever known in my life,” said Ron Lund, a cousin of Stallman’s.

Stallman helped bring people together, said Ron Lund’s wife Amanda Lund.

“He bridges gaps,” she said.

Some might remember Stallman from the 14 years he spent washing dishes at Truck Town in North Bend. Others might have met him and Moore in the guise of their respective alter egos, Sparky and Jingles. Stallman and Moore spent the past 15 years or so working as professional clowns, which is why they decided to wear costumes for the party. Moore said she and her son visited birthday parties, schools and retirement homes in the area.

Stallman reportedly has a fascination with firefighters. It was remarked he had about worn out his DVDs of the old “Emergency” TV show. To mark the celebration at the church, Eastside Fire & Rescue sent a rescue truck to pay Stallman a surprise visit. Stallman was presented with a medal from firefighters, who also let him try on some turnout gear, including a coat and helmet. Stallman gave the firefighters an impromptu hand salute while posing for a picture.

While Stallman has a keen interest in firefighters, his passion, several partygoers said, is his “putt-putt,” a golf cart given him by an older brother. Mark Disalle said Stallman would live in the cart if allowed to do so.

“It’s one of his favorite things in life,” Disalle said.

A few days after the party, Moore said Stallman enjoyed his celebration but was apparently a bit worn out. He went to bed when it was over and slept until noon the next day.

Ron Lund said the party was a great idea and a lot of fun, but admitted the occasion was obviously bittersweet.

“You never want to be in a position to have to say, ‘Goodbye,’” he said.

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