By Mary Kirby, Illinois FSA Public Affairs Specialist
He didn’t want to go to Disney World or meet his favorite superhero. All 5-year-old Joe Joe Charles wished for was one day where he could be a farmer and a cowboy.
It was a wish that FSA County Executive Director Linda Mathews and the Make-A-Wish Foundation brought to life.
“Joe Joe is the first child that had a wish to be a farmer or cowboy for a day,” said Stephanie Hampton-Boeglin, director of Mission Delivery for Make-A-Wish Missouri, “It’s the best wish I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of.”
Diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer at the age of 2, Joe Joe has endured chemotherapy, radiation, blood and platelet transfusions and multiple surgeries. He is now in remission and was referred to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to have a wish fulfilled. The non-profit organization grants a child diagnosed with a life threatening medical condition the chance to travel, meet a superstar or do something they have always dreamed.
For Joe Joe, his dream began when Malick contacted Linda Mathews in the Farm Service Agency Monroe County office in Waterloo, Ill.
Within a month and a half, Linda planned a full day of activities that involved Monroe County businesses, producers and residents. “It took everyone to make this happen, not just me,” said Linda. “The whole community pulled together. It was simply amazing.”
The day started with a limousine ride courtesy of former FSA State Committee Member George Obernagel. The limo ushered Joe Joe, his twin brother Patrick and his parents into Monroe County, where 2,200 purple and pink balloons, representing Joe Joe’s favorite colors, lined the streets welcoming the now-famous 5-year-old.
Linda greeted Joe Joe and his brother with an official farm makeover, providing work boots, blue jeans, jackets and a wallet with $10 inside “to buy seed to plant on their farm and feed for their animals,” she said.
Donning their new outfits, the boys took a ride around town in a fire truck before meeting up with farmers Don and Karen Schrader, who put the boys to work gathering eggs and riding a tractor to cultivate and plant some ground.
The farming experience transferred into a cowboy experience as Linda and her staff gave the boys western shirts and cowboy boots and hats and put them on a stagecoach hitched to two horses and driven by real-life cowboy Kevin Hirsch. They rode by area schools where more than 2,000 students and residents, along with the junior high school band, dressed in pink and purple clothing, waving and chanting Joe Joe’s name as he rode by.
“When cancer enters your life the way it has for our family, you see your community, your churches rally around you because they know you, they love you,” said Thomas Charles, Joe Joe’s father. “But when a community who has no idea who you are because they fell in love with a little child’s dream rolls out the red carpet and welcome us like they’ve known us all our lives, it’s just remarkable what these people have done.”
The day wasn’t over as the limo carried the family to the fairground where they enjoyed a little horse show, and the boys participated in rodeo activities like riding a horse and competing in barrel racing.
The final stop was the community building located on the fairgrounds. There, the family was greeted by community members, the alderman from the mayor’s office, and Illinois State Executive Director Scherrie Giamanco, who presented the boys with a farmer of the year award and a USDA hat. They also received trophies naming them cowboy of the year, presented by the president of the Saddle Club and a Future Farmers of America blue corduroy jacket from the FFA Association.
“What a life lasting reward to know that you can make a difference in a child’s life,” said Linda. “Outside of being a mother and a grandmother this was the third most rewarding thing I have ever done.”