TONGANOXIE — Tonganoxie resident Harold Denholm didn't know a pink tractor would get so much attention. But he's just fine with that.
Denholm, 81, painted his 1951 Farmall "Super C" tractor pink to honor his wife, Aileen, who died of breast cancer in September 2007. Aileen used the tractor, equipped with a 5-foot belly mower, to keep the grass trimmed in their yard and along the county road bordering their property.
Denholm now drives the tractor in parades and displays it at area festivals and fairs to promote awareness of the need for mammograms to aid the early detection of breast cancer.
"We need to find a cause, prevention and a cure, but the best thing we have now is early detection," he said.
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Denholm said he met his wife at Kansas State University; they married and after graduation moved to Tonganoxie, where he grew up. His wife was from Richmond.
Denholm said his father, William Denholm, purchased the Farmall tractor in 1951. The day the tractor was delivered to his father's Leavenworth County farm was the day the rain that caused the great flood that year began to pour from the sky.
The Farmall, the first tractor on the farm with headlights, an electric starter and power lift, was used to work the ground, plant, cultivate and harvest crops, feed livestock and mow, rake and bale hay.
Denholm said the farm eventually required larger equipment so the Farmall was passed on to Aileen and became known as "Mom's Tractor."
In 2005, Denholm said, Aileen went in for her yearly screening mammogram. The results weren't good: She had breast cancer that had spread to her bones. After 13 months of treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and involvement in a clinical trial, Aileen lost her fight against the disease at age 77.
Denholm said he read about two brothers in Iowa who worked on tractors together. When one of the brothers died, the other painted a tractor pink in his honor. He told his son, Gregg Denholm, about the pink tractor and they decided to do a similar tribute to Aileen.
"We worked on that sucker for almost two years," he said.
Denholm and his son disassembled "Mom's Tractor," fixed leaks and cleaned each part. They mixed red and white paint together to make the shade of pink used for breast cancer awareness ribbons.
"We did the trim in red at first but didn't like it so we switched to black," he said.
The tractor bears magnetic "Hope for a Cure" ribbons and "Mom's Tractor" decals. A canvas umbrella is stitched with "In Memory of Mom" and "Hope for a Cure."
Denholm said the pink tractor made its debut in the fall 2009 Veteran's Day parade in Leavenworth. Since then, the tractor has made appearances at the Shawnee County Fair; farm shows in Leavenworth and Kansas City; St. Patrick's Day parades in Leavenworth and Tonganoxie; a tractor show in Ottawa; the recent tractor cruise fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Brown and Nemaha Counties; and various Relay for Life events sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Next on the schedule is the Maple Leaf Festival Oct. 16 in Baldwin City.
One of Denholm's fondest memories came last year when he drove the pink tractor in the Relay for Life of Leavenworth County. The tractor led the first lap, with about 200 people walking behind it. He then parked the tractor and people gathered to take photographs with it.
"I figure if every time I go out if I can encourage one woman to get her mammogram I've had a good day," he said.
While his efforts are focused on early detection of the disease, Denholm, a retired mail carrier, said he believes one day a cure will be found for breast cancer. He thinks the answer may lie with stem cell research.