We crossed into Illinois – the Land of Lincoln, our sixth state – and quickly found ourselves in the small town of Hoopeston. The locals informed me that Hoopeston is the sweet corn capital of the world. The local high school mascot is an ear of corn.
Hoopeston is about 20 miles North of Danville, which is where my mother was born and raised. As a kid I remember taking many summer road trips up to Danville to visit my grandparents, John and Leila Eckert. I remember the blue and white van we drove in, and grandma feeding the squirrels in her front yard, and canoe trips, and the view of the lake out the big picture window on the back of their house. I was sad that our route had to miss Danville, but we have to make good time in order to cross the Rockies before snow season. Hoopeston was as close as we would come.
As we approached Hoopeston, Grandpa called me and told me that he could call a friend at WDAN radio to see if we could get some press coming into Illinois. He started working in broadcasting during his years at Danville High School, and worked alongside Dick Van Dyke and Gene Hackman in the studio. In his 40 years working in broadcasting, he was a founding member of First Radio Danville, WMBJ-TV (the “J” stands for John) and host of one of the nation’s first call-in radio shows, “Open Line.” Needless to say, when grandpa called his contact at the station, he got some serious balls rolling.
When we arrived at the Hoopeston Community Memorial Nursing Home, we were greeted by two news crews and two newspaper writers from around Vermilion county. News channel 3 from Champaign tailed us all day, getting great footage of us traveling across Hoopeston, meeting people on the street, and visiting with nursing home residents. The home’s common room was crowded with residents, and Max and Grace made the rounds while Kait and I managed the media.
We got to meet Mike Hulvey, grandpa’s contact at WDAN who had arranged it all. Mike made a special trip to meet us, and told me stories of my grandpa helping him with his golf swing back in the day.
While we were visiting, a woman approached us with her dog. She said her name was Jenny, and she had driven three hours from Sound Bend, Indiana just to meet us. She had found the blog, and wanted to find us before we got any further away. She brought along her awesome rescue dog, Dexter, so that we could meet him. We were so touched by her driving all that way that we were pretty speechless.
Jenny is studying to get her PHD in disabilities studies. She has Cerebral Palsy, and Dexter has a bifurcated paw. She said that when she saw him, she knew he was her dog. Everyone condescended to Dexter because of his differently-abledness, and Jenny felt a strong kinship. She explained that it can be hard for her to stay motivated to exercise and stay strong, and Dex is exactly what she needed.
We spent the afternoon with Jenny and Dex, trading stories about animal-assisted therapy, studying abroad, and the joys of marrying our best friends. We told Jenny that Dex would be a perfect candidate for pet therapy. We really hope they go for it.
Jenny and Dex drove home again, and Kait and I settled into a house for the night which had been donated for us by a board member of the hospital (who we never got to meet, unfortunately.) Then one of my mom’s friends picked us up and drove us to meet with the Dog Training Club of Champaign-Urbana. We were invited to share our story and passion with their members, and connect with a group that already knows the benefits that pet therapy and dog companionship can have. It was our pleasure to speak with them.
Rested up, we left Hoopeston this morning. On our way out of town, we were asked to sign some local papers with our story on the front page. It was a very strange experience, and we walked out of Hoopeston with our heads spinning.
Thanks to the CornJerkers, the rest of Illinois has a lot to live up to.