Man drives lawn mower from Canada to Iowa to promote children's hearing center
WINDOM -- "Grandpa Bob," 2-year-old Maren Hasse said, smiling, as she saw Bob Harms at a pit-stop during his charity ride "Steering for Better Hearing."
On Tuesday, a crowd of about 30 people, including the toddler, welcomed Harms, who arrived via a Toro lawn mower, at the Toro Company parking lot in Windom.
The fundraising effort started in Canada on Aug. 20, and will commence Thursday at the Iowa border. Harms will drive the 7-mph lawn mower the entire 485-mile journey.
His mission is to raise funds for the Lions Children's Hearing Center, housed at the University of Minnesota.
The cause hits close to home for Harms, who has suffered from a hearing impairment since infancy.
Harms said at one point he was going to have to quit his job, due to his hearing struggles. He said early detection and hearing aids have helped him cope.
"Are you nuts?" Harms' wife asked when she first learned of his ride. After the initial shock wore off, he said she has been supportive and excited about the trip and the cause.
Maren's mom, Jennie Hasse, said despite her daughter's nickname for Harms, her family only met him this June at a hearing loss walk. She said the Children's Hearing Center, where Maren goes, is one of the finest in the country, and she is grateful to have it close to home.
Toro employee and Lions Club member Dave Brockman said that upon learning about the trip, he emailed Toro executives asking if they would be willing to help with the cause. Since then, he said, "Toro's been wonderful; far beyond our expectations."
Harms said he looks for landmarks to help pass time, but it's the rain that accounts for the toughest aspect of the trip.
"When semis pass, it's like a total shower," he said, adding that he's also been chased by a few farm dogs.
Remarking on his favorite part of the trip so far, Harms said, "If you really want to see the beauty of Minnesota, ride a Toro."
Lions Club member Jim Aasness is also making the trek, driving an RV and stopping every 13 miles or so to wait for Harms.
"I enjoy it-- we meet a lot of people," Aasness said.
Aasness said the pair has only slept in the RV two nights. The Lions Club has provided the rest of the accommodations along the way.
Lions Club member Marlene Martinek said Maren's vision has kept Harms going.
"Maren is the face behind our story and mission," Martinek said. "Because of Bob's efforts, children like her will be able to benefit."
Martinek also thanked Aasness for his efforts, noting that Aasness has made Harms' food and has "basically been his servant" throughout the journey. She also recognized the Toro Company and said without its support, the trip would have been impossible. She said the company even "designed a canopy so Bob had a shield."
Speaking to Harms, Hasse said, "You are just amazing. We're deeply touched to meet people who care so much about this."
Ron Gray, the director of operations for Toro, said Harms' trip is the equivalent of cutting 270 acres of grass, to which the crowd erupted in laughter. Martinek added another crowd-pleasing remark, saying, "A jogger had the audacity to pass by Bob and wave."
With smiling faces all around, Harms and Martinek closed out the event by holding up a plaque with the words, "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear."
Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.