A bright yellow bench covered in sticky notes sits in the playground of Fords Prairie Elementary School, home of the Tiny Tigers.
Notes read: “The nicest person I have ever met in my life,” “You are the hero” and “You are such a brave man.”
The bench is dedicated to Noah Markstrom, a Tiny Tiger who died at age 6 from brain cancer in November 2019. It was donated by the Noah Jon Markstrom Foundation, which was founded by Noah’s family. The foundation’s mission is to raise scholarships and student loan payment grants for students of pediatric medicine, because Noah was so fond of the staff at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
The messages on the bench are written by kids growing up in the zenith of superhero movies. They don’t use the word “hero” lightly: Their friend Noah has been officially recognized as a hero by the City of Centralia and the students and staff of Fords Prairie Elementary.
On Sept. 13, 2019, the City of Centralia established “Noah Markstrom Superhero Day” to honor Noah while he was fighting his battle with cancer. The school observed the holiday again Monday, and will continue to celebrate it annually.
Students donned superhero costumes and were encouraged to represent the five traits of a hero: positivity, courage, perseverance, joyfulness and kindness.
Staff can nominate a student who embodies these traits in the face of adversity for the Noah Markstrom Award. The most recent recipient is Savanna W.
As the students assembled on the playground for the first time in 20 months — or for some, the first time ever — many kindergarteners were heard remarking on the incredible size of the crowd.
Noah has a lot of fans.
“Here’s what I want you to know: he was kind, he was loving, he was gentle, he was hilarious,” Principal David Roberts said to the students of Fords Prairie Elementary Monday. “Even when he wasn’t feeling good. I went over to his house on Halloween (about two weeks before his death) and guess what? He was peaceful and kind and loving. He was a real Tiny Tiger.”
Noah was in remission for much of kindergarten with his teacher Dorinda Iverson. By February, the cancer returned. Noah entered chemotherapy, which meant he had to miss plenty of school. This was hard for the other students in the class, Iverson said, because many considered him to be their best friend. But when he was able to attend school, he would hide from his peers and jump out once they’d all taken their seats in the classroom, causing roars of joy and applause.
“He was going through this but he still wanted to be at school. He loved being at school and when he was here, he made the best of it,” Iverson said. “He worked hard. He didn't let his circumstances ever stop him from living as much as he could.”
Though undergoing treatments and living with tumors that would have caused anyone a great deal of suffering, Iverson said Noah rarely complained. She gave credit to his family for modeling those positive traits.
But if you ask Noah’s father, Kyle Markstrom, the opposite is true: Noah taught him perseverance. Besides the staff at Mary Bridge, Noah’s favorite heroes were Batman and The Hulk.
“Not just to get through something but to always have a positive attitude,” Kyle Markstrom said. “He handled his sickness with such grace and was able to do what the doctors told him to do.”
Within the last two months of Noah’s life, the tumors in his brain and neck were starting to cause him significant pain. Kyle Markstrom remembers one night, tucking Noah in and telling him the cancer just wasn’t fair, and he was sorry it was happening.
“He looked right at me and said, ‘I would do it again if I had to,’” Kyle Markstrom said. “He was incredible.”