Seeds Of Hope

A Jamestown man and his giant pumpkin seeds made their way to Orlando to help a 9-year-old boy.

Andy Scalise, known locally for competitively growing large pumpkins, traveled south recently to meet up with Timothy Jacob (TJ) Lovitt. The Macclesfield, N.C., boy has spinal neuroblastoma and Noonan Syndrome – the combination of which is extremely rare and has left TJ partially paralyzed in his legs.

Scalise said he met Lovitt’s father, Gary, in an online giant pumpkin chatroom: Soon after discussing TJ’s growing interest in pumpkins, Scalise and Gary Lovitt arranged to meet in Orlando, where both men just happened to be traveling.

“We talk to people all over the world in that chatroom,” said Scalise, who has been growing giant pumpkins for a decade. “I heard about TJ and that he wanted some giant pumpkin seeds.”

Scalise said he met TJ outside Disney World; the two talked for about an hour on growing and showing off giant pumpkins in competitions.

The moment was memorable.

“Just to see him look up at me as we talked about pumpkins made it all worth it,” Scalise said. “You can’t put it in words. I’m just an every day guy, but this kid was so excited.”

Gary Lovitt, in a phone interview from North Carolina, said his son was overwhelmed with the experience. Receiving pumpkins seeds from a competitive grower helped, as well.

“He was very shy at first, but I think a lot had to do with being at Disney World and meeting a guy who grows these things,” Gary Lovitt said.

The third-generation farmer said he started growing his own giant pumpkins after coming across some seeds while shopping. Like a lot of pumpkin growers, he got hooked.

Hoping to get a photo of TJ next to a large gourd – similar to the one on the seed package – Gary Lovitt turned to the Internet. He soon struck up a conversation with Scalise.

“I guess you could say TJ’s interest in pumpkins has a lot to do with me,” the father said. “What makes this all rewarding is to see the faces after showing a giant pumpkin to kids.

“Every year I donate a pumpkin to TJ’s school for the children. Seeing their expression makes it all worth while.”

The pumpkins, though, are nowhere near as large in North Carolina as they are up north. That’s where Scalise and his expertise came in.

“I got hooked growing them,” the Jamestown resident said. “I wanted to give back to this kid.”

As for this year’s giant pumpkin competition? Well, preparation begins soon. Scalise said he will plant seeds – taken from the largest pumpkin ever recorded – precisely on April 24, a week earlier than last year.

“It’s a science,” Scalise said, noting the largest pumpkin he ever grew was 1,145 pounds.