Mike Witmer made a promise to his then 11-year-old neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer.

For the past two decades and counting, Mike Witmer, 57, from Gaithersburg, Maryland, has kept his promise.

Every year, he decks out his house in a spectacular display of holiday lights and decorations, and every year, folks ask, “Who’s Kevin?”

Because emblazoned across the garage roof, towering above the candy canes and reindeer, Santa Claus, and the wreaths, one very simple message stands out: “Hi Kevin.”

And while it’s only 2 words, it packs a lifetime of meaning.

So Who Is Kevin?

"Hi Kevin" Christmas light display

In a viral Facebook post, Mike shares the heart-wrenching story behind the beautiful tribute.

In the fall of 2002, Mike’s 11-year-old neighbor, Kevin, was diagnosed with cancer. A friend of his daughter’s, Kevin was “just a really cool kid…the kind of guy who loved to make people laugh.”

On Dec 23rd, doctors announced that after months of treatment, the tween was well enough to come home for Christmas.

To celebrate, Mike decided to add a special shout-out to his already festive light display, spelling out “Get Well Kevin” above his garage door. “I was just trying to be a nice dad in the neighborhood,” the father of two said. “It was such a small gesture.”

Small or not, Kevin LOVED it.

He loved it so much, in fact, that he asked his mom, “Do you think Mr. Witmer will put my name in lights every year?” That’s all it took. Tradition. Born.

The following year, Mike painted the words “Hi Kevin” on scrap pieces of wood and hid them around his display.

And then he did it again the next year. And the next. And the next. Making sure to never put them in the same place twice.

“At one point I had a working Ferris wheel, I put the Hi on one chair and the Kevin on another, so it wasn’t always visible,” Mike wrote on Facebook. “That year the family pulls up and he didn’t see his name, I was told he got out of the car and was like “HEY….?” About that time the Ferris wheel came back around and he saw his name, he smiled and got back into the family’s car.”

For 8 years, Mike continued the tradition, through Kevin’s cancer, remission, and even after he went off to college.

A Cancer Diagnosis and a Beautiful Tribute

Kevin had just returned from his freshman year at the University of Maryland when he received the devastating news — the cancer was back. This time, it was unrelenting. Sadly, Kevin passed away in June 2010 at the age of 19.

His parents asked Mike to speak at his funeral.  

“Afterwards, I invited everyone back to my house. I told them this year the tribute would be bigger and better, on the roof so Kevin could see. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Mike said.

That Christmas, Mike kept his word. “Hi Kevin” was bigger and brighter than ever, taking center stage on the roof of his garage, facing the sky “so he can see it from heaven.”

And 21 years after the tradition was first born, Mike is still at it. Despite the fact that Kevin’s family no longer lives in the neighborhood.

A Tradition Lives On

As word of Mike’s touching tribute to Kevin spread, people reached out to share the profound impact it’s had on their own lives, especially those who have lost their own Kevins.

“In the beginning my annual “Hi Kevin” was just a silly gesture to a really nice kid who had been through some tough times,” Mike told AARP Magazine. “But it has been my honor to keep the salute going for his friends and family, and for anyone else who has a Kevin to remember.”

He has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

And he hopes that, maybe, he can inspire others to do something kind for someone else.

Because sometimes?

“Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that end up meaning the most.”

Mike Witmer