BFFs: Joel Opp (left) and Andy Dick, of Mortenson Construction, treat the Shahan girls Friday to treats at Twiins Shoppe after giving the family a donation to buy “chemo shirts” for kids. Avril Shahan, 4 (far right), is fighting leukemia.

Wind turbine crew blows local family away

Workers take up collection for Avril Shahan’s cause

By ANDREW MCGINN
a.mcginn@beeherald.com

Everything about a wind turbine is huge.

The blades are more than 100 feet long.

The tower is more than 200 feet tall.

Clearly, the crew currently at work near Dana erecting 85 new wind turbines no longer has any sense of proportion.

That’s because the crew recently took up a little collection at work for the family of Avril Shahan — and on Friday, they dropped a check and some spare bills on the local family totaling more than $10,000.

OK, so even the instigator, Mortenson Construction crane operator Andy Dick, was surprised by the outpouring of support.

“It just blew up,” said Dick, a resident of Woodbine. “I couldn’t believe how everyone stepped up.”

Avril, 4, has been fighting B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia for the past year.

Her chemotherapy went from tearful to tolerable with the family’s discovery of “chemowear” — a special kind of shirt with zippers at the collar to allow for easy access to a chemo port.

When Avril one day said that every kid needs one, her parents ran with the idea, setting out to raise $12,000 to buy 600 chemo shirts for children undergoing cancer treatment at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.

Between a charity sheep and goat show June 16 at the Greene County Fairgrounds and Friday’s donation from Mortenson Construction, the family has managed to raise an astonishing $45,000 for their cause.

Mom Tabatha Shahan, of rural Jefferson, said they won’t be buying the 600 shirts as planned — they’ll be buying nearly 3,000 shirts.

ComfyChemo, the shirt maker in North Carolina, told Shahan the request is unprecedented.

“He said they’ve never dealt with an order this big,” Shahan said.

Not only will chemo shirts be going to Blank, but to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and to Mayo Clinic as well.

And to think, it all started because Shahan told her daughter, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Admittedly, though, the family thought it would be difficult to raise even the initial goal of $12,000.

Dick, who’s working this summer in Greene County on the second phase of MidAmerican Energy’s Beaver Creek wind project, saw a news story about the family’s quest and took up the cause, putting a hole in a five-gallon bucket and slapping Avril’s picture on the side of it.

As many as 250 people are working at the site, according to Joel Opp, the project manager for Minneapolis-based Mortenson.

“I’m very persistent,” Dick said. “I hit some guys three and four times.”

Dick managed to shake $5,171 out of his co-workers, an amount Mortenson then matched.

“If I’m in someone else’s community, I always try to do my part, keep business local,” Dick said.

After bestowing the check Friday on Shahan, Dick and Opp then treated Avril and her sisters to ice cream at the Twiins Shoppe.

Their act of goodwill will now reverberate throughout the state.

Shahan said kids undergoing chemo hate to take off their shirts.

“Every time we go,” she said, “there’s always a kid crying.”

Construction on Phase 2 of the Beaver Creek wind project will be finished in September, Opp said.

The first phase was completed in 2017.

MidAmerican’s 126 wind turbines in northeastern Greene County are expected to generate $105 million in property taxes for the county over their 40-year life.

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