Sewickley Wiffle ball event honors Owen Galluzzo

Monday, August 26, 2019 | 6:00 AM

Everyone loved Owen Galluzzo.

He was funny, sweet and wise beyond his years. His classmates at Osborne Elementary called him the mayor of the school.

“The principal used to say, ‘He could sell ice to Eskimos, because he’s just so freaking cute,’ ” mom Meghan recalls.

Owen was born with a congenital heart defect. On Aug. 10, 2014, at 9 years old, he died from a stroke after complications following surgery which he had successfully gone through multiple times before. He was to enter third grade that year.

A typical funeral “just didn’t seem to fit Owen’s spirit,” so his family held a large memorial event on Labor Day in War Memorial Park in Sewickley that drew more than 600 people, including Owen’s friends.

Each year since, that tradition has continued with the Owen Galluzzo Memorial Picnic and Wiffleball Classic, held this year from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 2 at War Memorial Park.

The day will include inflatables, a bounce house, face painting, ice cream, Eat’n Park Smiley cookies and raffle baskets. Owen’s friends and baseball teammates — who nicknamed him “The World” — will serve as captains for the Wiffle ball teams. The day is open to the public.

“As everyone kind of gets older and moves forward, we want to still be able to make him a very present part of our lives,” Meghan said. “This is a way for us to be able to do that, to still feel connected to him and to feel like we’re able to help kids like him.”

After Owen died, the Sewickley family started the Owen Galluzzo Memorial Fund, housed through The Pittsburgh Foundation, meant to enrich the lives of medically fragile kids.

The memorial fund contributes to two organizations that were an integral part of Owen’s life: the Arizona-based Beads of Courage, which provides children with beads for milestones in their medical journey, and Massachusetts-based Team Impact, which pairs children with serious illnesses with college sports teams.

Owen was paired — or drafted — by the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball team. He would go to all of their games and sit in the dugout with the players. Even if they lost, he would run the bases after the game and they would hit with him in the batting cages.

Beads of Courage gives children a way to mark their journeys emotionally. After every procedure, whether it’s surgery or getting blood drawn, they get a bead.

Owen had hundreds. It was important to him. When he had a big surgery coming up, he always wanted to know: “Can I get some more beads?”

Because both organizations were so important to Owen, it’s important for the family to keep giving, Meghan said.

“And, it just helps us through our grieving process, too,” she said.

Owen’s family, including dad, Matt, and sister Olivia, all partake.

They let Olivia, 11, do as much as she wants to remember her brother.

The annual event is the Owen Galluzzo Memorial Fund’s only fundraiser each year. Although people in the community will donate at other times, and kids will find ways to raise money or honor him, even orchestrating a Wiffle ball field to be created in his honor.

“People talk about him all the time and he’s very present, I think, in people’s lives,” Meghan said.