“A Heartwarming Feeling”

A cubby for toys and trinkets and a picture frame are among the cube’s features.

Midwest Elevator, Innovation Industries collaborate to create custom elevator gifts for three-year-old boy.

photos by Brian Gaadt

Elmo and Spongebob are the themes of many three-year-olds’ birthday parties. For Miles Mank of St. Louis, it was elevators. Miles is on the autism spectrum and is nonverbal. He does, however, say the word “elevator” and is clearly fascinated by elevators’ lights, buttons and sounds. ELEVATOR WORLD has touched on this topic before (“Going Up and Down with DieselDucy,” January 2015) and now brings you what Dustin Witham, sales manager at Midwest Elevator Co. in St. Louis, describes as a “heartwarming story.”

Involving the custom creation of high-tech “toys” for Miles, it all came about from a chance meeting between Midwest route technician Mike Wallis and Miles’ mom, Carolyn, at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, for which Midwest maintains the elevators. During one of Miles’ therapy appointments, Carolyn asked Wallis if his company had any old elevator panels with buttons for which it no longer had a use. She thought Miles would get a kick out of such an object. Witham states:

“I know of the connection between autism and elevators and really wanted to find something to give this little guy. I sent out a companywide request to all of our 113 employees asking them to set aside anything we may have left after modernizations or major repairs. We gathered some hall stations, car lanterns and other items at our St. Louis branch, but, with all the sharp edges, etc., everything seemed too dangerous to give to a three year old.”

That’s where Midwest technician Steve Lupo came in. He took a car operating panel (COP) that was far from child friendly and removed hanging wires and sharp edges and placed it in a frame. Lupo added cleats to the back of the COP so it could be fastened to a wall. He hooked up the phone button to a battery to activate the emergency light. “It was really special what he made,” Witham observes.

But, it did not end there. In the meantime, Midwest’s lead estimator and Project Manager Brian Wright had reached out to Josh Harrell at Innovation Industries, Inc., to see if the company wanted to get involved in the project. Of course, it did.

Wright worked with Harrell to help Innovation create a custom “fixture cube” made especially for Miles. The cube, Witham observes, is “unbelievable,” a sturdy, 2-ft. square with each side featuring something different: The full alphabet in buttons with an egress star on the “M,” engraved pictures of balls and dinosaurs, a cabinet for storing small toys and trinkets, picture frame, colored lenses, key switches and stop switches. “It has a power cord, and everything is fully functional,” Witham says. “The top has his full name spelled out in buttons.”

While the pictures from Miles’ elevator-themed party are no doubt adorable, the ones from the January presentation of the elevator-industry gifts are perhaps more so. The joy on everyone’s faces, especially Miles’, is clear. With Witham, Wright, Miles and his parents, Justin and Carolyn, in attendance, the presentation took place at Midwest’s headquarters, with the items later delivered to the Mank home.

The panel now hangs in the hallway outside Miles’ room, and the cube sits on the room’s floor. “People on the autism spectrum have some unique sensory things to deal with, and elevators, which are quiet but make certain noises when buttons are activated, have appeal for them,” Witham states. “We (at Midwest) are fascinated with elevators now but weren’t so much when we were kids. It’s kind of cool to see a little boy who doesn’t so much like superheroes but really loves elevators. It was a heartwarming feeling seeing him and his mom and dad so happy.”

Brian Gaadt is owner of Gaadt Productions, a St. Louis-based company that specializes in wedding videography and photography. He can be reached at gaadt360.com/bgp-contact.

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Elevator World Associate Editor