Teen restores tractors to help hospital
It's hard for 14-year-old Austin Rhoda to imagine a life not on the farm.
"Austin just seems to love everything about farming," his mother, Janni Rhoda, said. "When he was little, he would play with toy tractors."
Now, he not only works with tractors, helping with chores around the family farm for his father, he also restores them. So far, he's completed three in conjunction with his Chenoa Space Age Pioneer 4-H projects.
One was auctioned to raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
Austin is all too familiar with the hospital. When he was 8, he started losing weight and complained of being tired. His glands were swollen. Doctors thought he had a sinus infection. Then, maybe mononucleosis.
Instead, it was acute lymphoblastic leukemia, in which malignant, immature white blood cells continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow. It could cause damage and death by crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow and spreading to other organs.
The Rhodas learned the overall cure rate in children is about 80 percent.
"It took six weeks to figure out what it was," Janni said.
"They diagnosed it in Peoria and told us we had to go to St. Jude's for treatment," father Todd Rhoda added. "We drove an hour home, packed for an hour, drove an hour back to the hospital and then left for Memphis the next morning at 5 a.m. We didn't get back for seven weeks."
Three years of chemotherapy were followed by three years of treatment. Now, Austin is healthy, but the experience was life-changing for him and the entire family. Very little is taken for granted, particularly the work of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"We had heard about St. Jude's and seen the TV commercials," Janni said. "But, really, you don't know anything about what they do until you need them. They take care of everything because they only want the family to focus on the child who is sick. They are absolutely amazing. We could never repay them back for everything they did.''
But Austin and his family are going to try.
Two years ago, Austin, Todd, and family friend Paul Graves restored a Farmall 1948 H tractor and then auctioned it, raising $5,100 that went directly to St. Jude. This spring, the team finished work on a 1950 John Deere B tractor.
"My goal is to raise a lot more this time," Austin said. "That shouldn't be a problem. It's a Deere."
The tractors were received through donations and were in working order, with only the body in need of restoration. The John Deere took about 80 hours of work. The tractor will be showcased at several community events and summertime celebrations.
Raffle tickets are $10 each and can be obtained by contacting the family. The drawing for the raffle is scheduled Aug. 12, following the summer 4-H contest judging.