TAMPICO, Ind. (AP) — Wilbur Lee Hoevener of Tampico says every time he pulls his pink 1949 Farmall Super M tractor out for other people to see, he knows his daughter, Lisa, is watching.
"She's up there looking down, smiling, and I bet she's tickled pink about it," Hoevener said, glancing upward with tears in his eyes.
Lisa Hoevener died of cancer in 1997. She was 25 — young, beautiful, ambitious, sweet and loving, her mother said.
Although it was a rare type of liver cancer, not breast cancer, that took their daughter, the Hoeveners chose to paint the tractor pink in her honor because the color is the most widely recognized color associated with cancer awareness.
"The color for liver cancer is yellow, but no one would have really got it had we painted the tractor yellow," Ann Hoevener told The Tribune in Seymour (http://bit.ly/RAWW7z ).
"It was a wise decision," Wilbur Hoevener said.
They purchased the tractor in 2008 from Leo VonDielingen and recruited their nephew, Brad, to restore and paint it pink, but not just any shade of pink.
"We went to a tractor show out West where we got the idea from a lady who had painted her tractor pink," Ann Hoevener said. "But that one was more like Pepto-Bismol."
She thought that, with the right shade of pink, the tractor would gain a lot of attention. But her husband didn't take to the idea at first.
"He thought I was crazy," Ann Hoevener said, laughing.
That fall, though, he asked his wife if she was serious about the pink tractor.
"Which, of course, I was," Ann Hoevener said.
Instead of Pepto-Bismol pink, Wilbur Hoevener worked a deal from Dupont paints on a shade endorsed by the American Cancer Society as "breast cancer pink."
"It was perfect," he said.
The tractor was unveiled in June 2009.
"We invited friends and family, and they couldn't believe it," Ann Hoevener said. "We hadn't told anybody we were doing it, so they were surprised, but everyone liked it."
A month later, the Hoeveners introduced their pink tractor to the public in the Antiques Building at the Jackson County Fair in Brownstown. They described the response as overwhelming.
The couple set up a sign dedicating the tractor not only to Lisa but to the memory of all those who have lost their battle to cancer as well as cancer survivors, those currently battling the disease and "anyone touched by cancer," Ann Hoevener said.
The couple also brought a picture of their daughter and a signature book for people to leave messages. One book has turned into several volumes, filled with stories about Lisa and messages of hope.
"What people write is very moving," Ann Hoevener said. "You can't read through them with a dry eye. Some people write about Lisa, and others tell their stories about cancer."
The Hoeveners agree the tractor has helped them deal with their grief in a positive way and has helped raise awareness of not just breast cancer but all cancers and the need to find a cure.
The tractor has been featured on television news programs and in area newspapers as well as farming magazines. Wilbur Hoevener also makes it a priority to drive the tractor in as many local parades and events as he can.
This month alone, he was scheduled to appear in the Oktoberfest and Fort Vallonia Days parades and the Medora Goes Pink Breast Cancer Awareness and Community Day.
Although people try to pay the couple for their participation in special events, Wilbur Hoevener said he is happy and more than willing to do it for free.
"We just tell them to make a donation to the American Cancer Society or their local cancer center," Ann Hoevener said. "This was never about making money for us."
They said one of the most memorable events they have attended was the Relay for Life walk in Bloomington.
"I led 38,000 people," Wilbur Hoevener said. "There was one little boy, probably 8 or 9, who had cancer, who wanted me to take him on a ride. He had never rode a tractor before, but his favorite color was pink. That was probably the best ride I've ever had."
This year, the Hoeveners are dedicating all their outings to their friend, Joellen Nierman of Brownstown, who is facing breast cancer for a second time.
"If we have helped even one person, maybe they went and got a mammogram or got tested for cancer because they saw the pink tractor, then it's worth it," Ann Hoevener said.
The pain of losing a loved one to cancer never goes away, but the Hoeveners know that Lisa would want them to keep fighting.
"She was a real sweet girl and would be proud of what we are doing to help others," Ann Hoevener said.
Information from: The (Seymour) Tribune, http://www.tribtown.com