June 27, 2022 at 7:28 p.m.
“My husband is an over-the-road truck driver, and almost 30 years ago, he took part in a Make-A-Wish truck convoy fundraiser in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” Punk Montgomery said. “He came home and said he thought we could organize something like this. I was milking cows at the time and had five kids. It took me two years to agree to it.”
The first Make Their Hearts Smile truck convoy fundraiser took place in 1998. Five trucks raised about $1,200 to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that helps fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, between the ages of 2.5 and 18.
“I wasn’t really much of a people person when I took this on,” Montgomery said. “I liked to stay home with my cows and kids. I really had to come out of my shell and develop a whole new skill set to make this work.”
This year’s convoy ride took place June 11 and began at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Neillsville. The convoy traveled a 60-mile circular route to Marshfield before returning to the fairgrounds. Each year, the convoy stops at the same truck stop in Marshfield. At the fairgrounds, activities include a food stand, door prizes and a silent auction.
There were 91 vehicles in this year’s convoy, including a mix of semi-trucks and passenger vehicles. The group will continue fundraising throughout the summer. A final tally for the 2022 donation will be made when funds are submitted to the Wisconsin Make-A-Wish Foundation Sept. 1.
Throughout the first 24 years of running their truck convoy, the Make Their Hearts Smile fundraising group has raised $326,198.22, which has granted the wishes of 67 children.
“The only year we didn’t actually have the convoy was in 2020; we only raised donations through letters,” Montgomery said. “That year we still managed to raise $7,000 through mail-in donations.”
Two years ago, the Montgomerys were inducted into the Wisconsin Make-A-Wish Wall of Fame at the organization’s state headquarters in Madison for their dedication to helping brighten the lives of ill children.
“We have had truckers from all over the U.S. and Canada come and participate in our convoy,” Montgomery said. “We have even had an Australian trucker who came to the U.S. to ride along in our convoy.”
Much of the advertisement for the convoy is done by word-of-mouth, posters and social media. They send letters to area organizations and businesses to gather donations.
“Fuel prices didn’t seem to factor into people coming to take part the convoy this year,” Montgomery said. “Everyone said that it was a good cause, and they would just do what they had to do to take part.”
In the early days, planning the event took a lot of time and effort. But, Montgomery said now she has it down to a science. She begins in January by focusing her efforts on preparing for the event held each June.
“I know exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done,” Montgomery said. “All of the groundwork is laid. It’s just a matter of updating everything for each year. Everyone in the family helps me run it now. It has truly become a family event.”
One of the most challenging parts of setting up the convoy was learning what DOT permits were needed.
“We just have to get the route approved, ensure there is no road construction on the route and make sure we have a police escort lined up,” Montgomery said. “Now they know what we are doing, and it is just something they expect and plan for.”
Montgomery’s granddaughter, Kellisa Carlisle, took part in the first convoy as a baby and now takes an active role in helping her grandmother plan and organize the event. Carlisle also continues the family’s tradition of dairy farming, milking 39 Jersey and Ayrshire cows on the family farm.
For the past two years, five generations of the family have participated in the convoy, including Montgomery’s mother, Charlotte Tetzlaff, and her daughter, Tiffanee Tesmer; Carlisle and her son, David Gage, make up the fourth and fifth generations.
“I enjoy it, maybe even more so now that I take a part in making it happen,” Carlisle said.
Montgomery said they are not officially told of the children their work benefits, but being from a small community, they often know the families involved.
“We send the money to the state to be distributed, but if we know of a child locally, we can request that it is used to grant their wish,” Montgomery said. … “Most of the wishes we have granted have been within about two hours of us. … One family didn’t use all of the money they were given for their wish, so they donated it back to the convoy the next year to go toward another child’s wish.”
The variety of wishes they have been able to grant have included things such as a computer, a hot tub, a horse trailer, making a house handicap accessible and a trip to Disney.
“We have known of a few instances when the child has passed before the wish is granted and that is just heartbreaking,” Montgomery said. “But knowing that we have put a smile in the hearts of 67 kids and their families, even through their struggles, that is worth every minute of the time spent planning.”
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