Greg Heyroth meant the world to his granddaughter, 9-year-old Alexis Heyroth.
Greg, who died of lung cancer just days before Christmas, spoiled her with toys and games, trips to the shop for ice cream and soda. They’d gone to tractor pulls together where she’d watched her grandfather help her dad, Kurt Heyroth, prep their “Cars”-inspired pulling truck Tow-mater for a pull.
“He spoiled me a lot,” she said.
Greg was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2016. He’d started treatment almost immediately, but by Thanksgiving of that year, the doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his brain; there was nothing more they could do.
On Dec. 21, 2016, Alexis’ hero passed away, but not before making sure his granddaughters were taken care of.
Alexis’ mother Jessica Heyroth said Greg had always been big into Christmas.
“Greg had talked about getting the Kindle tablets for the girls,” Jessica said. “He always made sure they were taken care of.”
Soon after, Alexis came up with an idea to raise money for a local charity during her grandfather’s celebration of life in April 2016.
She drew inspiration from the pulling truck she’d watched her father and grandfather build together and set to work.
The fourth-grader created a miniature tractor pull with a picture of Tow-mater the pulling truck. For each dollar, she raised she would move the picture down the track and toward her goal of $3,000.
Alexis said the idea to donate to Sunshine of the Trail came from family friend Dylan Thurk, whose family had long donated to the Bangor-based charity. The cancer support group provides financial and emotional support to Coulee Region families affected by cancer.
“We chose Sunshine on the Trail because we wanted the money to stay local,“ Kurt said.
Greg’s passing reached more than a few close friends and family members.
Greg was a fixture in the community and an even bigger influence in his family’s life. For the last seven years, following his retirement in 2010, he’d worked for his son Kurt at Coulee Region Diesel.
“He knew everyone at that shop,” Jessica said adding he was like the coffee machine guy everyone talked to while Kurt and the others were working on a customer’s truck.
“He always had the shop open at 6 a.m. before anyone was there,” Kurt said.
He said when his father wasn’t talking to customers or fabricating, he was working on the family’s pulling truck.
“He was his right-hand man,” Jessica said.
Kurt said years earlier when he first became interested in tractor pulls, his father had been the one who had pushed him to build his own truck.
Together their Disney Pixar-inspired truck caught the attention of hundreds.
A crowd of nearly 500 came down to Kurt’s shop to celebrate Greg’s life during the 12-hour-long event.
“I was really surprised by the turnout,” Jessica said.
Every hour, Alexis would carry a bucket around the room collecting donations.
“It was pretty exciting,” Alexis said.
Jessica said by the end of the night, it had turned into almost a bidding war.
“I’ve got $100 if you’ve got $100,” she recalled others saying in the final hours of the celebration.
By the end of the night, the family had collected $3,400 in donations.
“It was a fun way to celebrate his life,” Jessica said.
As for Tow-mater, Kurt said during the six months following his father’s death, he dedicated his weekends to rebuilding the trucks so he could give his father one last ride.
“We’ll go back and tow with a vengeance,” he said. “He’s going to go for a ride.”