Applause rang out as Jonathan Becker and his family walked through the parking lot toward the front doors of the John Deere Harvester Works factory in East Moline, Illinois.
Employees lined the walkway to greet the family with camera flashes, high fives, and handshakes – all eager to welcome Jonathan and give him a day he would never forget.
The welcome kicked off a rare VIP tour for the 11-year-old boy from Pontiac, Illinois, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor on his brain stem. He has undergone two surgeries and completed multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
“We know we have limited time with him, and we’re just trying to cross these things off his wish list,” said Matt Becker, Jonathan’s father. “This is more than we ever expected.”
Harvester Works produces combines and front-end harvesting equipment. And it’s a factory that never stops, but production came to a short halt to welcome the family.
Employees lined the tour route and filled the areas where the tour would make brief stops during the December visit.
Each department the family visited went above and beyond to provide encouraging words, unique gifts – including some made in the factory using laser cutting – and special one-of-a-kind experiences.
Jonathan also got to start up a combine, participate in virtual welding training and watch a paint robot write his name.
The stop in Department 927, where combine cabs are built, even featured a visit from “Santa,” employee Ron Berrie. Dressed in a Santa shirt, suspenders, and hat, Berrie posed with Jonathan and his three siblings for photos before the tour continued.
Jonathan seemed in awe of the experience, proclaiming each stop and experience to be his favorite.
“When children in these circumstances choose to visit us, it’s truly very humbling, something we pull out all the stops for,” said David Thompson, UAW Local 865 president.
Jonathan is a huge John Deere fan and wants to be a farmer when he grows up. His grandfather and uncle both farm, and his father owns a lawn care company. All three men use John Deere equipment exclusively.
The sixth grader is active in 4H, entering crop growing contests and animal shows.
“I am proud to work for John Deere and a factory that cares what happens when life is happening,” said Daniel Portz, material flow project manager at Harvester Works. “It is always an honor that we have an opportunity to take part in these special experiences.”
John Deere receives only one or two of these types of special VIP tour requests per year, and the requests are granted if: 1) they come from a reputable non-profit organization that’s working with the family; or 2) there is a true John Deere connection, such as a customer family.
Once the family finished their tour at Harvester Works, they were whisked away to Deere & Company corporate headquarters for lunch with Luke Chandler, chief economist for the company. On the menu was Jonathan’s favorite, chicken Alfredo with root beer floats. The Becker family was given an exclusive tour of headquarters, including executive offices and the boardroom.
UPDATE: As of March 2018, Jonathan has completed his last round of chemotherapy. According to his mother Marie Becker, his doctors are pleased that his scans have been stable and the tumor has not been growing. So, he is able to take a break from chemotherapy at this time. The most exciting part of the past few weeks was, according to Marie Becker, when “…his dad pulled up to our house in his new John Deere Gator.”