Cancer survivor receives surprise

CADIZ Zack Jones of Freeport got the surprise of his life during the close of the Harrison County Fair. The young cancer survivor received a gift of an 856 International Harvester tractor, built by hand.

Last August Zack was diagnosed with undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma, a rare type of cancer, infecting his liver. Doctors said the disease is often fatal.

Zack, now 15 years old, was treated with chemotherapy at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, followed by surgery.

Zack is a student at Union Local and a member of the school’s football and wrestling teams and the Tri-County Showstoppers 4-H Club. Through 4-H he has won many awards including one for raising and showing the Grand Champion Market Hog at 2008’s count fair. He is a passionate student of agriculture and active in his family business, D&J Sales and Service.

His poor immune system and danger of infection hit Zack particularly hard due to his love of the outdoors.

Throughout the fight, Zack’s courage and positive attitude was an inspiration.

The tractor was a surprise for Zack.

“He has no clue,” said Tina Jones, mother.

Todd Kendle of New Philadelphia, an Ag Mechanics teacher at Buckeye Career Center and a friend of the Jones family for 15 years, was the motivator behind the project. The tractor was built from the ground up at his home.

Kendle said groups like the Make a Wish Foundation do not provide motor vehicles.

“It hit me that this was something I had to do,” he said, adding that volunteers from five states helped make the project a reality.

He added that the response among friends of the Jones family was immediate and overwhelming.

“It just snowballed,” Tina said. “Everybody donated a part.”

Between 20 and 50 people including individuals and businesses made the project possible through their time and donations. Students at Kendle’s Ag Mechanics class also assisted.

“A lot of people had their hands in it,” Tina said. “We will never know everybody who donated.”

The name of the tractor, “Survivor” is blazed on the side along with cancer survivor ribbons.

Zack himself provided the name during one of the tractor pulls his family frequently attends.

“We asked him, ‘if you ever built a tractor what would you name it?'” Tina said.

Friends of the family donated money and material and worked on the tractor since January. They finished the final touches July 9, the day of the fair’s tractor pull.

Zack has been familiar with tractors since the age of four. He has helped drive tractors around the farm since age nine.

“This is what he’s always wanted,” said Tina, adding that Zack will be able to spend more time with his father. “It will allow a lot more family time. Since this happened we think about that.”

“They’re all pretty emotional. They’re very excited about it. They’re a great group of guys.”

“A lot of people donated a lot of stuff to make it happen,” said Kevin Lee, a fellow cancer survivor who provided the engine who heard about the project through Kendle and Reb Billman. “It’s tough when you’re a kid to have something like that hit you. It’s hard to say no.”

Kendle drove the tractor during the fair’s tractor pull. After the event, Zack was called down from the stands.

“Do you believe wishes come true?” Kendle asked while the cover over the tractor’s name was removed behind them. “Turn around and see your wish.”

The crowd cheered when Zack climbed into the driver’s seat.

“I had no idea,” Zack said. “Since I was four years old I’ve wanted one. I’m astonished. I’m happy.”

DeFrank can be reached at