South Buffalo’s tractor pull galvanizes community in support of girl, 6, with cancer
At 6 years old, Ella Conroy has plenty in common with kids her age.
The South Buffalo girl likes to build houses of Legos and make friendship bracelets.
She is a Girl Scout and cheers for youth football players across the Alle-Kiski Valley.
But Ella has to spend at least one day a week every week for the next year undergoing chemotherapy to fight an aggressive cancer.
“We’ve got nine down, and 41 more to go,” her dad, Nate Conroy, said outside a dirt course Saturday during a fundraiser honoring his daughter — the South Buffalo Volunteer Fire Department’s Tractor and Truck Pull benefit. “She’s handling it fairly well. I mean, she hates it obviously.
“But every time I go there, I tell her, ‘Me and you are here, but we’re not alone.’ And I remind her all of these people that are thinking about us, praying for us, caring for us when she goes in, and she does what she has to do.
“We get in and we get out. She’s stronger than I am. That’s for a fact.”
Firefighters, community unite for Ella
Ella wasn’t thinking about hospitals or medicine that makes her feel sick Saturday .
While her dad threw a football with a few young boys, she sat on a blanket on the grass alongside two of her best friends and picked out their favorite trucks and tractors.
After paying a $20 hook fee, more than 40 drivers competed across several categories, including antique tractors, street pickups, super stock trucks and open street semis, in the Tractor and Truck Pull benefit and boot drive organized by local firefighters and volunteers. Ella wore foam earplugs to muffle the noise of the engines and showed off a bright rainbow painted above her left eye. She wore the same T-shirt as dozens of others — emblazoned with “Ella’s Army.”
Nearly 600 of the shirts have been sold through Ella’s school and various youth organizations.
“We decided that when someone in our group needed help, we were all going to pull together … and make her struggle a little bit easier to go through,” said Cassidy Hack, a Girl Scout leader who organized the T-shirt sales.
Ella has struggled with cancer since she was a toddler and doctors discovered a small tumor on her spine. She underwent chemotherapy treatments when she was 2 and 3 years old, her dad said. In July, an MRI showed the tumor had started to grow again.
“So here we are back with a stronger, different type of chemotherapy, trying to get this thing wiped out — hopefully, this time, once and for all,” Conroy said.
The South Buffalo Fire Department decided to reboot the truck pull tradition several months ago, said event coordinator Erin Pflueger of Slate Lick, whose husband is a firefighter. When they learned about Ella’s condition, they decided to do the benefit in her name.
“They would not let us help with anything; they did not want to let us lift a finger, and obviously as you can see: it’s a home run today,” Conroy said. “I mean, everybody has pitched in and made this amazing. The Girl Scouts came together, the football organization, cheerleaders, everybody is just one big family. … It’s just so moving and touching just to see all how the community comes together.”
Donated fireworks from Starfire capped off the event as the sun set. Proceeds made off the concession stands and boot drive will go to South Buffalo’s fire hall. Everything else — including face-painting, T-shirt sales, 50-50 drawings, raffles and silent auctions — will go to Ella and her family.
“We’re so grateful that we found a local beneficiary because it made the community come together even stronger,” Pflueger said.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .