After more than a year of fits and starts, Buckin’ for Wishes returned Sunday to the Effingham County Fairgrounds in Altamont to provide the yearly meeting of mud, sweat and hope.
Dozens of people came out to see some of the country’s best bull riders try to hang on, while also donating funds to help Make-A-Wish Illinois and support the legacy of Elizabeth Weidner, the Teutopolis girl who passed away in September following a five-year bout with cancer.
The event is the brainchild of Beth Funneman, a Make-A-Wish granter who had done anything and everything she could do to raise money for the group, including 5K runs, bingo nights and trivia nights. She got the inspiration for Buckin’ for Wishes through her son, a bull rider, as she saw the passion and enthusiasm of rodeo crowds up close and personal.
“After following him around the rodeo circuit, it was always a good crowd and a fun event, so I decided to try it one year and see if it could draw a crowd,” Funneman said.
The event proved to be successful, but COVID-19 put a damper on the festivities not once, but twice. The 2020 event was slated to be held in June, but it was postponed due to capacity restrictions. Plans were put in place to have the event held this summer, but that was postponed until October, when the event was pushed back once more. Still, Funneman was encouraged by the fact the event went off as planned, even if morning rains made the surface a quagmire for anyone involved.
“There’s been so many obstacles (in our way),” Funneman said.
Event planners normally invite 10-15 Make-A-Wish kids to the event, one of which has their wish granted during the event. However, that was eschewed in light of Weidner’s passing. Due to her death, her wish was not granted, so Funneman and event organizers made sure to encourage people to donate to her charity, Crowns Fight Cancer, and the memorial scholarship fund established in her name. The family wishes to have people donate $18,000 by Jan. 2, 2022 — what would have been Weidner’s 18th birthday.
Those seeking to donate can go to the Crowns Fight Cancer Facebook page or https://4agc.com/donation_pages/c4dac845-ab59-4cb9-b986-6d941fbd08fc?fbclid=IwAR26m9HvX10qPKVpD-ODjtS5_MkUTqtjVrMtqcSEhUN0LJrK4DjCcdTVct4 to donate whatever they wish.
Everyone in attendance received a yellow ribbon in honor of Weidner and prior to the event received a reverse moment of silence — one minute in which everyone cheered as loud as they could. Funneman said all of the efforts were the least they could do to try and help out the family during their time of need.
“It’s the least we can do to get the word out about her scholarship fund so that her legacy can continue,” Funneman said. “We didn’t get to grant her wish and that was hard on us and hard on them. It’s an avenue that we chose to help support them.”
The wish kids and their families in attendance had stories to tell that soothed the soul and warmed the heart.
Deanna and Roy Clark, parents of 17-year-old Megan, said their struggles began at her birth. Born at 32 weeks, she was stricken with meningitis at 8 weeks old, something that Deanna said gave her daughter cerebral palsy, epilepsy and developmental delays. Each and every day is a challenge for Deanna and Roy to take care of their daughter, making them grateful that Make-A-Wish is able to make dreams like that of Megan’s — who wanted to go to Walt Disney World — come true.
“Make-A-Wish is amazing,” Deanna said. “When they sent us on our trip, they took care of everything. We had no pre-planning at all — they did everything. They made sure medicine (and) diapers were there. All of our rooms were paid for (and) the whole family got to go. They had a limo pick us up. Everything was taken care of from the time we left the house to the time we came back. We did nothing except have a good time.”
Stories like that of Megan’s help to further Make-A-Wish Illinois’ mission of transforming lives through wishes. Laura Huerta, community engagement manager for Make-A-Wish Illinois, said the wishes are one part of the healing process that comes before, during or after the child’s physical recovery.
“The wish isn’t just this one-time nice thing,” Huerta said. “It’s an experience that is part of the treatment for the child’s well-being. A lot of times, we hear from our kids who are told, ‘You have to be at this doctor’s appointment. You can’t do that. You have to go here. You have to go there.’ When they get the wish, that’s all theirs. It’s so nice to be able to sit down with a child and hear them plan and dream and you get to do that. There’s nothing like it.”