New billboard memorializes local
farmer Dale Lessen
Raises awareness for organ donation
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[November 07, 2019]
On Monday morning, a large group gathered in the parking lot of the
Carpet House in Lincoln. Their visit to the lot was to recognize a
new billboard in Lincoln that memorializes the life and generosity
of a local farmer, the late Dale Lessen.
On April 17th of this year while working in a farm field, Lessen
collapsed. His hired hand, Randy Grohmann was with Lessen. He called
for help and began CPR. When help arrived, it was too late to save
Dale, but it was not too late to keep his body in stasis while being
transported to a hospital where he would later pass. Because Lessen
was a registered organ donor, he was kept on life support while
arrangements were made to harvest his organs and provide second
chances at life to many others who were anxiously waiting for an
This week, the Gift of Hope unveiled a billboard in Lessen’s memory,
the first of its kind. In a brief ceremony at the foot of the
billboard on Woodlawn Road, Sarah Wieber, Gift of Hope After Care
Specialist, spoke about the billboard and Gift of Hope.
She began with thanking the Lessen family for their support in
getting the billboard placed and also their tremendous support in
promoting organ donation in the community. She added comments about
their extreme generosity and sacrifice. Wieber said, “Dale’s family
is a complete reflection of him. Their eager commitment to help as
many people as possible by spreading awareness of donation is a
direct reflection of the way that Dale would jump into action to
help anyone and everyone in need.”
Wieber done some online research, visiting social media to see some
of the comments that have been made about Dale since his passing.
“He was loving, caring,
compassionate, hardworking, honest, bright, truthful, helpful, kind
“He was a loving husband, a best friend, and the best dad in the
“He had a giant heart and was the kind of guy that people were proud
Wieber paused then said that she would read the last and her
favorite comment that had been posted by Dale’s wife Sarah.
“Dale was a hero long
before he saved lives, and now he is a Super Hero.”
Marion Shuck, Director of Community Affairs and Donor Family
Services also spoke on behalf of Gift of Hope. She said that while
putting this billboard together there were many people involved, all
working in partnership. She said that Gift of Hope enjoyed working
with the partners and the Lessens to get the billboard. She noted
that this was the first billboard down-state for Gift of Hope. She
said that the donor families are important and mean a great deal to
the Gift of Hope. She had met Dale’s wife Sarah and had enjoyed
hearing stories about Dale and the kind of person he was and still
is through his donation. She expressed her sincere gratitude to the
Lessen’s for supporting and honoring Dale’s wishes and offered them
a gift to commemorate the billboard.
The official ceremony was then concluded and Wieber invited those on
hand to join her and Shuck at the Cracker Barrel where they could
share time together in remembrance of Dale Lessen.
Before leaving the parking lot, the members of the immediate family
gathered for a photo with the billboard as a back drop.
Then the entire group who was on hand for the unveiling gathered for
a second group photo.
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Family members on hand for the ceremony included Dale’s wife Sarah,
daughter Shelby, his father Bill Lessen, sisters Colleen Anning,
Linda Maxey, Susan Gehlbach and brothers-in-law Jim Gehlbach and
Since Lessen’s passing, his generous gift has touched the hearts of
many people. In June, Dale was made an honorary chairperson at the
Logan County Relay for Life event held at Lincoln College. Dale’s
sister Susan Gehlbach spoke on behalf of her sister-in-law Sarah.
At Relay for Life, Gehlbach explained that Dale had collapsed from a
brain aneurism. She told the crowd that Lessen had been a long time
sponsor of Relay for Life and had been a member of the Angels All
In June of this year, Lessen was the topic of a story written in
Farm Progress Magazine. In the story the Lessens talked about the
days that followed Dale’s collapse. They learned from Gift of Hope
that while many people register to be organ donors, there are very
few who are able to be kept alive long enough to coordinate an organ
harvest. Statistically, only three out of every 1,000 registered
donors end up actually giving.
The Farm Progress story relayed some important insights into the
journey for the family.
From Farm Progress Magazine:
Dale’s sister Colleen
Anning notes, “He lives on in others,” and that while they didn’t
have to stay with Dale during the harvesting process, doing so
helped the family see a positive glimmer grow from the tragedy.
“They'd tell us in the waiting room every time they found a new
match for his organs; and instead of crying, we'd just start
cheering,” daughter Shelby Lessen remembers. “It felt like a silver
lining for us, instead of feeling like all this was for nothing.
He’s a true hero in our eyes.”
“We were so devastated and shocked. This was the only good thing
that came out of everything that happened,” Sarah says, adding that
the family recently read an anonymous letter from someone who
received one of Dale’s kidneys.
“She’s a grandmother — and now instead of being on dialysis and
missing birthday parties, she’s spending time with her family
again,” Dale’s sister Susan Gehlbach says.
Instead of flowers on his casket, Dale was laid to rest with the
Gift of Hope flag, which waved above Memorial Medical Center for
three days after the organ donation. Hundreds lined the halls in the
first honor walk ever held at Memorial Medical Center before his
organs were ultimately harvested.
The Gift of Hope also has a feature story about Dale and the Lessen
family and their journey through the donation and harvest process.
The story is touching, as it talks about how the family and the
community loved and respected Lessen and how that through an awful
tragedy, a light of hope shines for others. That light warms the
hearts of Dale’s family and serves to help them take comfort in
knowing that as Dale lived his life with purpose, his passing also
had purpose and holds second chances for the many people who will
receive organs thanks to Dale.
As the story on the Gift of Hope website comes to an end, it notes:
One of the ways Sarah
and Dale’s family are honoring his gifts and the lifesaving legacy
he created is by becoming donation advocates and sharing their story
to help increase awareness about the importance and significance of
donation. But another unique and huge way they’re honoring Dale is
by purchasing space on a billboard in Lincoln, Ill., at the 1300
block of Woodlawn Rd. The billboard is a call to action to members
of the surrounding communities to register to become donors and to
ensure that their family members and friends know about their
decisions by having the donation conversation with them.
“Everyone in town goes down that road,” Sarah said. “I think it’s
going to be a good reminder because half the town knew Dale and knew
his story. Even if we get one more person to sign up, it could save
a life down the road. The more people we make aware of the
importance of donation and the more people we get to sign up, the
more my husband continues to be a hero. If this brings awareness to
even one community, the billboard has done its job.”
Lives saved, thanks to organ donor farmer
CENTRAL ILLINOIS FARMER SETS OFF LIFESAVING DOMINO EFFECT