Boy with cerebral palsy auctions off prize pig to help mom with ALS

In the parlance of the beloved children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, this is some pig.

It’s not only that 280-pound Hokey is one of the heftiest denizens of the Hog Barn at this weekend’s Montgomery County Fair.

His owner, 18-year-old Gabe Wetzel, definitely has the biggest heart. Gabe, who has cerebral palsy, is auctioning off his prize pig Monday to raise money for the ALS Association in honor of his mother, Susan, has recently been diagnosed with the degenerative muscle condition better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

“He wants to do something for his mother because she has done so much for him,” said his father, Dave Wetzel, 50. Older brother Andrew, 22, is too old for 4-H, but helps with the hogs.

Added Susan, “My boys want to give back. That’s the kind of boys they are.”

A large banner flies over the stall that houses Hokey and his brother Pokey: “Help Gabe make a big difference”in the fight against ALS.

The family is getting lots of support from the other 4-H families who have known David and Susan since they were 13-year-olds who fell in love at the Montgomery County Fair. Gabe is involved with the Happy Farmers 4-H Club, which is 75 years old. “Look around this barn,” Susan marveled. “Everyone here grew up with 4-H, and so did their parents and grandparents.”

The couple, who has been married for 29 years, couldn’t have foreseen their future challenges during those carefree teen years when, too young to date, they looked forward to seeing each other every year at the county fair. Both Gabe and their older son, Andrew, 22, have developmental delays as well as cerebral palsy. Gabe, a junior at the Montgomery County Educational Center, also has a heart condition. It seemed a cruel twist of fate when Susan was diagnosed with ALS last October, not long after last year’s county fair.

But Susan doesn’t look at it that way. “I am blessed beyond blessed,” she said, “with my family, friends, church.”

Growing up on the 36-acre family farm in Clayton has enabled both boys to achieve their maximum potential, their parents said. Andrew raises chickens and sells pumpkins and gourds every fall. “They work on the family farm and they are a huge help,” Susan said. “We don’t coddle them.”

Susan’s first symptom was a drop foot that slapped against the pavement when she walked. She was diagnosed with ALS when tests ruled out every other condition. Her quality of life is excellent, she said, although she gets around with the help of a cane or a motorized chair. Dave carries her up the stairs of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Dayton every Sunday.

As for self-pity, Susan laughed, “I don’t have time.” She can no longer collect eggs, or do many of her other farm chores, but she keeps busy with canning and baking.

Since Susan’s illness, Dave said, “I’ve come to realize how much she did. She has been there every minute for the boys, while I was off farming, off to work.”

Dave’s parents, as well as his brother and his family, live on nearby farms and have helped tremendously since her illness, Susan said: “We are very close as a family and we do everything together.”

Gabe brings his mother flowers from the garden every morning — a gesture that moves Susan deeply, even when the bouquet consists mostly of milkweed and dandelions. “He would do anything to help his mom,” Dave said.

Susan said her sons “know something is wrong, but they don’t know the depth of it.”

But they know the ALS Association has helped their mother, and they want to do their part. Gabe showed Hokey at the market hog competition, where he won third place. “He can show a pig,” his father said with pride. “He isn’t given any special consideration, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”

The hog auction will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday and is expected to last 90 minutes or more. Hokey will be auctioned last, and all proceeds will go to the ALS Association. County fair officials as well as the ALS Associations will be accepting donations with the memo line “Gabe’s pig.”

“You don’t have to take home a 280-pound. pig in order to help,” Dave said.

The bidding is expecting to go high for this radiant, humble, terrific pig.

“It’s such a great idea, and there are so many families here who support each other,” said family friend, Sandy Seim of New Lebanon.

The bidding war will have a lot to do with Hokey’s own merits, of course, but also with the extraordinary family who has shown such grace in the face of adversity.

“We may not look fine to the outside world, but we’re fine,” Susan said. “God is good. And to whom much is given, much is expected.”

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