Community rallies to turn yard into Rockefeller plaza for woman with cancer

LIMA — It may be a back yard in Bath Township, but for one evening, thanks to a tremendous group effort, it was transformed into the Big Apple to help make a friend’s wish come true.

Amanda Markley, a teacher who has taught in Lima and Bluffton, was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. After battling through chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries, Markley was eventually declared cancer free.

“She was 13 years clear, totally clear,” her father, Charlie Rayl, said. “And then it came back last November.”

This time, the breast cancer had spread aggressively to her bones, resulting in many trips to Columbus for treatment. So began the battle again for Markley, now 43, along with her husband, Aaron, a high school teacher at Bath, and their son, Logan, a high school freshman at Bath. That fight continued for the past year, with a benefit, “Amanda’s Army,” established to help cover the financial expenses incurred due to the treatments.

“She is the toughest person I know,” Rayl said. “She is my hero.”

Despite those efforts, it was becoming clear that this fight would not have the ending for which her family and friends had hoped and prayed. Efforts began to make the most of the time she still has, making every moment count for her and her family.

“She’s had two things she’s wanted to do,” Markley’s friend, Mandy Green, said. “She wanted to watch her son play high school basketball, and she wanted to go to New York City to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree.”

A trip was arranged to New York for Dec. 18, but as Markley’s condition continued to deteriorate, the sad realization came that her health would not allow her to make that trip.

Green and others decided to take a different approach.

“If she can’t get to New York, we’re going to bring New York to her,” she said.

Numerous volunteers descended upon the Markley residence, stringing up lights and setting up decorations to help recreate the iconic plaza, complete with the giant lit Christmas tree, one of many in the yard. Lights were arranged in the grass to form the shape of another Christmas tree, and a lit pathway lined with candy canes led up to the back deck and the “ice rink,” which was blanketed in a layer of snow thanks to a snowmaker attached to the roof. A horse and carriage were even secured for the evening.

“People just showed up, and they really didn’t know what to do,” Rayl said. “And look what they were able to do. It was amazing. Everyone just joined in.”

Green and her fellow organizer, Kristy Lepley, were amazed by the community response.

“We put out a thing on Facebook to put out the backstory, just looking for donations for lights so we could decorate one tree,” Green said.

“It’s even down to where we have popcorn popping to help recreate the smells,” Lepley said.

When Markley’s husband and son brought her out in her wheelchair to tour the yard Sunday evening, the large crowd of family and friends who congregated to celebrate with her watched in an almost reverent silence as she took in the sights. The silence changed to laughter as the family took pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a reindeer and even the Grinch, all of whom helped make the evening a memorable one.

“She was just in awe of all the people that showed up and all the work we put in putting everything up,” Rayl said.

Markley and her family weren’t available to comment, as the activity from the tour prompted her to go back into her house to rest. However, even then, she was serenaded by the Bath choir, which sang Christmas carols into her open bedroom window.

“It was a big team effort,” Rayl said.

Thanks to that effort, at least for a moment Markley was able to realize her dream and truly be a great big part of it: New York, New York.