Austin Warren and his family never expected to get a second chance to experience the magic of Christmas.

One year later and against all odds, the 10-year-old paraplegic boy under hospice care had his wish granted Sunday night at the Roseburg Rotary Umpqua Valley Festival of Lights.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Scott Richardson, battalion chief for Douglas County Fire District No. 2, and two other fire engines escorted Austin and his family through the brightly lit arch at the start of River Forks Park, in his official capacity as grand marshal for the Festival of Lights.

The brief ceremony and parade kicked off the 29th season of the Festival of Lights and fulfilled a Make-A-Wish for Austin and his family, one year later than expected.

Under hospice care in 2020, Austin simply wished for Christmas to come early. Organizers with the Festival of Lights were only too happy to make that happen for the Springfield family. But with complications from COVID-19 and Austin’s own health problems, the wish was never fulfilled that year. Because of grim news for Austin’s prognosis, the chance for it to happen in the future seemed slim indeed.

That’s because doctors told Austin’s family multiple times in the last two years that Austin had less than a 5% chance to live.

A year later, the boy who loves Christmas so much that his family kept their decorations in place from last year, made the trip to River Forks Park in a 16 passenger van designed for a wheelchair.

“It’s a true miracle,” said his mother, Bonnie Warren. “We never expected this.”

Brian Prawitz, current chair for the Festival of Lights, said Sunday’s moment with the Warrens turned out to be a great start to the season.

“It was perfect,” Prawitz said. “It was just a nice moment for the family.”

This year marked the first time the show would open without the guidance of the Festival of Lights founder Kerwin Doughton.

Doughton, who had the vision for the Festival of Lights more than 30 years ago, died in January after a brief battle with cancer.

On Sunday, a 6-foot, lit caricature of Doughton and a sign proclaiming him as the “Father of the Festival of Lights” were in place at the gate to the park, ahead of schedule — thanks to the efforts of Con-Vey, Prawitz said.

The festival is scheduled to run through Jan. 1 at River Forks Park.

Mike Henneke can be reached at or 541-957-4208. Follow him on Twitter @ihenpecked.

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