Tehama Shrine

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The Story Behind The "Walking Tall" Statue

You drive by them all the time: statues depicting a Shriner carrying a little girl and her crutches. The girl who inspired those statues at Shriners Children's Hospitals is now 50. 

It was hard not being able to do what others could do, kind of sitting on the sidelines pretty much, former Shriners Hospital patient Bobbi Jo Wright said in Evansville, KY, where I traveled to meet her.

Wright is the little girl depicted on the Kosair Shriners Silent Messenger statues all over Louisville and across the country. The statues were inspired by a photo taken 45 years ago at Evansville's Mesker Park. 

Wright was at a summer outing there for disabled children, having a hard time getting around, when something happened that was spontaneous, genuine and lucky. "Noble Al Hortman saw I was having difficulty, so he picked me up and carried me from ride to ride, Wright said. Photographer Randy Dieter was struck by Shriner Hortman carrying the 5-year-old with cerebral palsy in one hand and her crutches in the other. But he only had one photo left on a jammed camera. 

When I look at this photo, it makes me very sad on one hand, and it makes me happy and encouraged at the humanity this man showed you.  What do you think of? I asked Wright.   I see what you saw... because they do everything they can to help kids in whatever way they can, said Wright. 

What she doesn't see in her statue are all the surgeries she had in Shriner's hospitals, lengthening tendons, shortening a leg, fixing hips out of socket. After I got the cast off my hip surgeries, it took a long time to get the soreness out of my hips, Wright said. It took time, but she got an English degree at Anderson University.  

At the age of 50, she still gets invited around the country to tell Shriner's her story. "I just let them know what they do makes a difference, not only in my life but the lives of so many other children, said Wright. 

When you see the statue, Bobbi Jo Wright wants you to see what's behind it.

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