By Betty Vanderwielen

Sparrow's Vine Meets Disney


October 26, 2017

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Sparrow's Vine Executive Director Tera Wold and husband, Jason, set the tone of the Disney-themed banquet by dressing as Beauty and the Beast.

SEELEY LAKE – The world of Disney infiltrated the Double Arrow Lodge Thursday, Oct. 19, at the annual fundraiser for Sparrow's Vine Parenting and Pregnancy Resource Center. Tables were elegantly set for the "Be Our Guest" banquet, each table identified by a Disney movie name including the Cinderella Table, The Lion King Table and the Mulan Table. Several items in the live and silent auctions carried Disney movie themes. Even attendees, encouraged to dress as princes or princesses, got in the spirit and wore tiaras, capes and other royal attire. Crowning it all was guest speaker Broose Johnson who worked as animator at Disney Studios for 17 years.

Johnson spoke briefly about his participation in what's been called the second golden age of Disney animations. He created characters for "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Pocahontas," "Mulan" and "Brother Bear," voicing many of the characters also. Though he said his experiences at Disney Studios were always fun to talk about, his real qualification for speaking at the Sparrow's Vine event was the circumstances surrounding his birth.

"I was the poster boy for abortion," said Johnson.

Johnson was born with unusable leg bones below the knees; the lower leg bones were not connected to his feet at one end nor to his kneecaps at the other. He also had scoliosis of the spine so severe that his spine practically formed a right angle and his hip and half his pelvis were shoved up underneath his ribcage. During his first few years there were also auxiliary problems: heart murmurs, "liver stuff," hernia operations.

Johnson's said his point in telling about his physical deformities was that, if an ultrasound had been taken of him in utero, "These issues would not only have been obvious, they would have screamed out and brought panic and tears to a first-time parent."

He added, "In today's current climate, few would have questioned the choice to abort me. I mean, what kind of quality of life would they have condemned this poor little boy to? I'm sure there would have been doctors who would have advised them to abort me and put me out of my misery. It would have seemed unfair, they would have advised, perhaps even unethical to bring a child into this world, knowing what a nightmare it would probably turn out to be for him."

Yet Johnson was born, and his parents weathered those first few years during which time most of his internal physical issues were resolved. When he was just over a month old, his legs were amputated above the knees and he was fitted with artificial legs. He said he now stands 5 feet 9 inches with his prosthetic legs; 3 feet 9 inches with them removed. Because of the scoliosis, he walks with a cane.

In rebuttal to those doctors who would have counseled abortion, Johnson said, "God has richly blessed me with an incredible quality of life, an incredible story. In fact, it is a quality of life that I think I can safely say has found its way into nearly every one of your houses in the form of my work at Disney and impacted your lives in some way. Not many can say that. And I take that as a great honor and responsibility."

Nor does Johnson's story end with his Disney career. At the banquet, he spoke about ripples, about how one decision can affect many others. One ripple he pointed out was that his own father, born out of wedlock in an era when that was socially as well as religiously unacceptable, could easily have been aborted. That would have meant that he would never have been born – and Aladdin, Simba and Beauty's Beast might have turned out very differently.

Another ripple Johnson talked about happened after Disney Animation went digital, resulting in the closure of the traditional animation studio where he worked. Johnson moved his wife and five kids to a log home in Bozeman, Mont., another dream come true for him.

Prior to the move, his family had become friends with another couple who also had five children. Through a series of events, both of those parents died within a short time, leaving their children in the temporary care of grandparents. Johnson and his wife offered to take in all five of the children, which eventually resulted in adopting all of them in 2012. Though the sudden addition of five new family members brought challenges, Johnson said it also brought "many, many blessings."

Johnson drew parallels between the events of his life and Sparrow's Vine's commitment to provide emotional support and practical assistance to pregnant women facing decisions about abortion, adoption or help with parenting. Johnson said he was very impressed with the staff and the programs at Seeley Lake's Sparrow's Vine.

"What I've heard over and over again is, 'we're in the building up and enriching lives business'," Johnson said.

He also noted that the organization has a continuing need for prayers, volunteers, and financial support. While the services offered, including pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, are completely free to clients, he pointed out the program is running on such a limited budget that it can only afford to be open a few days a week.

Johnson ended by saying Sparrow's Vine is in the business of changing lives. By supporting it, "it just might be that one of those lives that changes is your own."

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Sparrow's Vine Co-Director Kim Van De Riet shows banquet attendees the live auction item donated by speaker Broose Johnson. Johnson sketched the picture of Simba atop the Beast's head especially for the banquet auction. It was purchased for $650.


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