Cross-country by tractor for OSCCross-country by tractor for OSC

By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, July 18, 2019
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Courtesy Bill Larson
Red Lodge Mayor Bill Larson with Ivan Stoltzfus and his 1948 John Deere tractor. Stoltzfus was also honored with a Citizen of the Day medal by Mayor Larson.

Ivan Stoltzfus is a man on a mission and he’s well into completing it. He arrived in Red Lodge on Saturday, July 13 and expects to stay through July 18. He arrived a little earlier than expected and parked at the Antique Mall on South Broadway. 

It was important for him to be right downtown to meet and greet people and tell his tale of support for Operation Second Chance (OSC) by driving his tractor cross country. 

He’s loving every minute of it-the back roads, the little country towns. 

“My father worked his way across country by 26. He told me, ‘I could have done a lot more! If you have a dream, just do it!’” Stolzfus’ dream is to drive his tractor across country to raise awareness and funding for wounded war veterans, especially those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He is also supporting first responders. 

“I carry two flags on the back, blue for police, red, for firefighters. They love it.” 

In fact, they love it so much he usually receives police escorts whenever he hits a town. Our law enforcement escorted him into Red Lodge several times.

Stoltzfus hails from Pennsylvania but took off from Germantown, Maryland, OSC headquarters, on May 10 on a large John Deere almost as old as he is. 

“I’m 72 and it’s 71 years old with 15,000 miles on it,” he said.

Stolzfus won’t say how many miles he has on him but he spent 30 years farming in Pennsylvania and then had other careers as an auctioneer and a realtor. He should be the type of person who is able to talk a good talk. But, he says, it is the people who keep talking to him.

“They come pouring out of the gas stations…wherever he stops,” says OSC national board member and Treasurer, Tim Sanders. 

Sanders flew to Red Lodge to meet him at this point on his journey. He raved at the community support here. “It’s such a nexus (for OSC and veterans),” said Sanders.

Red Lodge is a solid Yellow Ribbon community. He calls the actions of OSC “grassroots and high level impacts.”

Stolzfus says although he admires the beauty along the road, it is the people who have captured his heart. 

“I think of America as one big family,” he says flashing crystal blue eyes and with deep sentiment. “It’s so rewarding. I enjoy it so much. Just to see them smile.” 

It’s something he didn’t expect-to get back so much. But what’s even more rewarding is how he never expected to directly be able to give back to them.

“One young man in Iowa came running out of a gas station up to me as soon as he saw the truck. I could tell he had PTSD. He said, ‘I want to end my life.’ We’re getting the contacts to help  him.” 

Stoltzfus says, “If I can make one person smile, give them a positive in life...”

His trailer, which doubles as an OSC billboard with all the help information on its side, was seen by an elderly couple. 

“I was going across Nebraska,” says Stoltzfus. Their car saw the pictures on its side and “this fellow, in his 80’s, a World War II vet” pulled over and immediately started to tell his story. This happens a lot to Stoltzfus and he calls it part of his mission, to not only raise awareness but to allow vets to process their experience by sharing. 

The man needed surgery from the VA. They agreed to do it but said he first had to get his teeth fixed. When he went to get his teeth fixed, they were so bad the dentist had to remove all of them at great cost.  When he told the VA they refused to cover the costs; they would only cover the surgery. He was in a terrible depression.

Stolzfus immediately went right to the source. He contacted the founder of OSC, Cindy McGraw. She was able to line up the financial aid to help him. “His wife said when he got the news, he was a completely different person!” Along with America being “one big family” he said, “We have the responsibility to help them.”

He is touched daily and intimately by the sufferings of many families. “So many give me their loved ones’ photos.” He keeps them posted in his trailer where he sleeps. “I wake up every morning and look around. I think, ‘I’m free.’” But he feels the responsibility. 

Although he has never served, he is serving in his own way. When he started he had the urge to give back but wasn’t sure what this trip would mean. Now he reflects, “If I only helped those two people,” he said, his eyes filling up, “It was worth the whole trip!”

Stolzfus has a daughter and four grandchildren. They are planning a reunion and will be there to meet him when he completes his journey in Sarasota, Florida on Saturday, Oct. 2.  He said his grandchildren love what he’s doing and are proud of him. He points to the OSC motto he has posted on his trailer, “Helping heroes move on one mile at a time.” 

“People say to me, ‘Don’t stop! Keep on going!’” Stoltzfus has no intention of stopping and will keep his tractor on the road for his whole cross-country journey. 

Stoltzfus says, “I want to thank all the people for their prayers for my safety. But it’s not about me, it’s about those willing to sacrifice for me for freedom!”

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The Carbon County News

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