FARGO — Deklen Fischer died two weeks ago at five months old after struggling with spinal muscular atrophy.
John Fischer and his wife Lindsay welcomed family and friends Wednesday night at Lindenwood Park in Fargo, but it was far from an ordinary summer get together. Hundreds turned out and brought toys with them.
"This is amazing, truly beautiful, this is way more than we expected," said John, Deklen's dad.
Instead of a funeral, the couple held a toy drive at the park in honor of their son.
"It feels good to smile and reconnect with people and be happy. (But) It's not like there hasn't been sadness," said Deklen's mom Lindsay.
Alex Rydell with Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home said he hadn't seen anything like this unique way to honor a loved one.
"We are constantly looking for ways that we can uniquely personalize and celebrate a person's life," Rydell said.
"It's just really heartwarming to know that through tragedy this couple has chosen to bring light to other people," said Dianne and Robert Wendlick of Fargo.
The idea caught the attention of people of all ages, like three little boys who never met Deklen.
"All the toys that are here help me feel better, because we are celebrating about him and stuff," said Theodore Graves, 7, of Fargo.
There was a surprise visit that caught the eyes and ears of the hundreds there, when a dozen bikers with the Regulators Motorcycle Club roared in with toys.
"It affects all of us. We all have kids, grandkids, so we thought we had to do something to help them out," said Gary "Chef" Hancock, a member of the motorcycle club.
It was an overwhelming response beyond John and Lindsay's expectation of around 100 toys. The final count came in closer to 400. All the donated toys will go to Toys for Tots.
The hundreds who stopped by did stick around to say one final farewell, by releasing hundreds of balloons into the air.
While Deklen Fisher, who was five months old when he died, never had a chance to open birthday presents or unwrap gifts from Santa, hundreds of kids will have a Merry Christmas thanks to a little boy they never met.
"There is going to be some sadness. We are both going to think Deklen is not here to open any presents, but then we will think how many kids now get to open presents that would not have been able to, thanks to Deklen," Lindsay Fischer said.
There will be a benefit next month at Big Erv's at the Rose Creek Golf Course to help the family recoup some of the medical expenses. A silent auction is planned. Donations in the form of cash or check (payable to Fischer Family Benefit Fund) can be sent to any Bell Bank branch.