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Riding a mower border to border, for little ears

    It was a trip of a lifetime for 66-year-old Lions club member Bob Harms, of Kingston, when he traveled nearly 500 miles from the Canadian border, across Minnesota, to the Iowa border in August on a Toro riding lawnmower (donated by Toro) in 10 days. The purpose of the trip was to raise funds for the Lions Hearing Foundation and the Lions Children’s Hearing Center at the University of Minnesota so that “all little ears can hear.” His initial goal was to raise $25,000, but he surpassed that and raised his goal to $50,000. To date, he has collected around $40,000. Harms came up with the idea to make this trip on a riding lawnmower at a Lions convention in Mahnomen. “While we were there we were doing some brainstorming on how we could raise funds for the hearing foundation,” Harms said. “On the way home I thought of that (fundraiser idea), and I mentioned it to my wife, but she didn’t say anything. So I thought she figured it was okay. The next day I called the chair of fundraising for the hearing foundation, and he thought it would be a great idea. Of course when you come up with an idea you get stuck with it. My wife then said ‘are you nuts?’ She was hoping it would just go away. “I have been in the Lions for about 22 years. I have been involved with the Hearing Foundation the last three years. The reason I went through all this and was interested in this is I had a hearing problem all my life, and they recently started a Lions Children’s Hearing Center at the University of Minnesota. That is just an amazing clinic. There are only two in the United States. The other one is in Boys Town, Neb. What they do is you make an appointment and you spend the whole day visiting with seven different doctors. Each one visits and exams the patient, and at the end of the day, those doctors get together and come up with a treatment plan. This is really neat. This is especially important in children. It affects your learning ability. “This all started out with the infant hearing screening. The Lions equipped all of the hospitals in the state of Minnesota and did the training for all of the hospitals in the state of Minnesota to screen for hearing at birth. Now every child, at birth, in the state has a hearing evaluation before they leave the hospital. They do that by putting a device in the child’s ear and sending sound into the ear, and they measure what comes back. By doing that measurement they can tell if everything is working or not. The Lions funded that for a number of years. Finally, the state funds it and the Lions moved to fund other things. Not only did the Lions start this, but they funded it.” Harms can relate to children with hearing loss because he suffered hearing loss as a child himself. “Ever since I was an infant, I have had problems with my ears. Every time I would get a toothache or cold I would get an earache and my eardrums would break. This one (right ear) had a lot of scar tissue on it, so it was basically just scar tissue. I have had surgery on it twice. But each time it reverts back to its own self. Because of that I am not able to wear a hearing aid. If I put a hearing aid on in about an hour or two I feel something going on in there, and I get an infection.” Three years ago Harms noticed his hearing loss was affecting his job as Kingston city clerk, where he transcribes city council meeting minutes. “Because I had taken a number of tours at the University of Minnesota through the Lions Eye Bank and the Lions Hearing Center I knew about the doctors there, and they were all pretty special. So I went and saw Dr. Levine, and he said this might help me. He had me evaluated and said this would work. Then I found out it would cost $25,000. There was no way I can afford that. So he and his staff worked with the insurance company, and the insurance company paid for it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have it, and I wouldn’t be working anymore.” In 2010, Harms went and had a  bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA) implanted behind his right ear. “They drill a small hole in your skull and put a titanium screw in it. A vibrating attachment snaps onto the screw.” The 500-mile fundraising trip in August wasn’t a sure thing. “My dad was diagnosed with some form of leukemia in December, and they told him he had only three or four weeks to live. He was doing well until a day or two before I was going to go on my ride. He took a serious turn for the worse. I just about said I wasn’t going to be able to make, it but he insisted that I go. He said he would be okay, and he would wait for me.” The trip started Aug. 20 on the Canadian border. “Somebody actually called the border patrol and said there was suspicious activity at the border. They sent a patrolman over, and he asked us some questions. After we told him the story he said ‘I am going to stick around and see you guys off.’ He waited until we left.” Along with Bob was Jim Aasness, a Lion and past district governor from Dilworth, Minn. Aasness drove his own motor home and towed a covered trailer of supplies. The motor home had a large banner identifying the fundraiser and pictures of both Lion Bob and the poster child, Maren. Maren was hearing impaired at birth but was not correctly diagnosed until 21 months and was treated at the Lions Children’s Hearing Center. She has two cochlear implants. Harms met Maren at the Minnesota Arboretum in June of 2012. Maren was diagnosed with a hearing loss and somehow fell through the cracks. Her grandfather and grandmother are Lions, and they heard about the Lions Hearing Foundation. They sponsored a team to walk, and they came up with the slogan “Little ears should hear.” They went on the walk to raise funds. “We met them there, and we were pretty well into the planning of the mower ride,” said Harms. “She was such a cute little kid, and her mom and dad were so excited to learn about the Children’s Hearing Center. We asked them if Maren would be the poster child for our ride, and they said yes.” The trip from Canada to Iowa had a daily plan. “We would leave about 7:15 a.m. and Jim would go ahead 15 miles and wait for me. He would put up banners and sell raffle tickets while he waited for me. The raffle tickets were for a riding lawnmower donated by Toro. A drawing was held on Oct. 26, and Darlene Lundin, from Litchfield, won the Toro lawnmower. There were no close calls, and the drivers were very courteous. Other than three flat tires on my trailer, we didn’t have any trouble at all. Some of the highlights were when they stopped at a restaurant and a waitress donated her entire day’s tips. Another was when a dog scared me when it came running down a farmer’s driveway and barking at me. He walked with me for a ways then went back to the farm. Two hundred miles into the trip, a jogger passed me. That was kind of disheartening because I still had 300 miles to go. We did about 50 miles a day. We went down Highway 89 to 2 and then took 71 all the way to Iowa. The Lions were good to us. Everywhere we stopped the Lions fed us and provided a place to stay. It was a nice trip. “Of course the highlight was when I got to Windom on Aug. 28 and I got to spend some time with Maren and her family. Toro put on a little celebration that was kind of neat.” Maren’s parents presented Harms with a plaque that read: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear” — Mark Twain. Harms presented Maren with the gift of a lion. Maren has adopted Harms as her “grandpa” and repeatedly called him “Grandpa Bob.” “About an hour before I got to Iowa I got a call from my wife. She said come to Litchfield because your dad is really doing poorly. I went directly to Litchfield from Iowa and was able to spend some time with him before he passed away. He lived another week and a half. He was on my mind when I was on this trip. My dad’s funeral was out in South Dakota, and Maren’s mother and her mom came to the funeral. Maren’s family are just wonderful people. “Maren and my dad were on my mind the entire trip,” said Harms. You can still make a pledge to change a life by sending a donation to Harms in Kingston or to PDG Mike Vos, Lions Hearing Foundation Treasurer, 20472 371st Avenue, Green Isle, MN 55338-2172. Earmark your check as “Mower Ride.”

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