Model ship sails in to Warren County High School

Noah Frazier, 15, a student at Warren County High School, holds up a satellite milkshake mixer that he created out of a K'NEX building set that was given to the school by Glenda Mikulak. Mikulak's son Glenn, a 2010 Warren County graduate, created this 10,000-piece model cruise ship that is on display at the school. Glenn Mikulak died in 2010 of respiratory failure linked to muscular dystrophy. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Glenn Mikulak graduated from Warren County High School in 2010. Now, his prized creation, a 10,000-piece model cruise ship made out of KNEX, has made its way to the school’s library.

For Kenneth Knesh, assistant principal at Warren County High School, the decision to find room for the ship was easy. Glenn’s mother Glenda Mikulak sent Knesh an email asking him if the school would find a place for the ship.

“She asked, ‘Hey, what do you think?'” Knesh said. “And we said, ‘Heck, yeah.'”

But for Glenda Mikulak, the decision to bring the ship to the school in the first place took more time. Glenn Mikulak died in 2010 of respiratory failure linked to muscular dystrophy, his mother  said, and for over six years his model cruise ship stayed in her house.

Eventually, Glenda Mikulak’s daughter Robin told her that the cruise ship should go.

“It was in our dining room; it was taking up half our dining room,” Glenda Mikulak said. “And our daughter was like, ‘Mom, you should really share this with other people.'”

Glenda Mikulak said that the ultimate decision to move the ship was a difficult one.

“Emotionally, I wanted to keep it with me,” she said, but she eventually decided to have the ship leave the dining room.

In June 2016, Glenda Mikulak asked the staff at the Discovery Museum in Winchester if they would house the ship for a while.

“They were like, ‘Yes, we need that ship,'” Glenda Mikulak said. “We started planning the grand opening.”

In the intervening months, she worked with the Discovery museum to figure out how to transport the fragile ship. She found a friend who owns a construction company and got him to build a case. The ship arrived in December.

Then, this August, the ship traveled once again – this time, to Warren County High School.

Glenda Mikulak said that she hopes the high school will become something of a “home base” for the ship in between tours to various locations. She said she would like to have the ship go to children’s hospitals, where her son spent a great deal of time, and that it might get to go on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

“That would be the goal, that eventually this gets to go on its own cruise,” Mikulak said. “And I’ll have to escort it everywhere.”

But then, the ship would be able to return to the high school.

Glenda Mikulak also said she hopes that the ship will serve as something of an inspiration to high school students who know her son’s story.

“Children with disabilities and without both really benefit from [the ship being in the high school,]” she said. “It really inspires those with a disability that they can do it.”

Building the ship was difficult for her son, his mother said, because his muscular dystrophy made it hard for him to lift his arms and to connect pieces together.

He got help from his peers. He would tell his friends where to put pieces, picturing a design he had in his head for what the ship would look like.

But he also struggled building parts of the ship himself.

“The most difficult part was cutting those flags by hand,” Glenda Mikulak said. “That was his biggest frustration in the whole ship. And he almost gave up a couple of times. I was like, ‘No, you can do it.’ We were all helping him, and it was about modifying as he got more unable to use his hands.”

Glenda Mikulak said that Glenn started work on his cruise ship soon after he took a cruise in 2006. It quickly became an obsession.

“As soon as he got home from school, he would rush in from the bus until I would have to force him to go to bed,” Mikulak said.

In just six weeks, he finished the ship.

“He had a goal,” she said. “I think he really knew that he was dying, that life was going to be short for him. And it was just, he was just trying to put everything he could.”