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Tractor sale has our heart going, going, gone

Columnist Steve Lange says some stories are worth telling again.

Oddchester - Steve Lange column sig

Another feel-good story from 2021.

Because we all could use some feel-good stories right now.

In August 2020, Michael Sullivan — a 33-year-old Illinois husband and father of three, a partner in his family’s auctioneering company — felt sick. Swollen lymph nodes. Fever. Tired.

His family feared COVID. A few hospital visits later, Sullivan was diagnosed with something called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He needed chemo. He needed a bone marrow transplant. He needed, his doctors told him, to get to Mayo Clinic.

He arrived in Rochester within a few weeks. Started chemo.


Family members volunteered to donate their bone marrow, but doctors couldn't find an ideal match. They tried the worldwide tissue donation registry. There was no match there, either.

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Time was running out.

Finally, Mayo docs had to go with the best match they could find — Michael’s 23-year-old sister, Gracie.

Gracie volunteered. Didn't hesitate.

The transplant took. Gracie, like most tissue donors, was back to normal after a few days.

Michael slowly recovered, then thrived. By the summer of 2021, after nearly nine months at Mayo, Michael was back home.

The story could have ended there, and it would have been a good one.

But then Michael decided to give back.


He decided to auction off his vintage 1972 John Deere tractor and donate the money to Mayo Clinic. He hoped to make $25,000. Secretly wished for $30,000. It was August 2021, a year since Michael’s diagnosis.

The auction house was packed with maybe 1,000 people (from nine states) that Sunday night. Dan, Michael’s dad, took the microphone. Started the bidding.

The bids passed $25K. Passed $30K. Passed $100K. Passed $200K.

A group of local businesses had banded together. They bought that 1972 John Deere for $250,000.

Then donated the tractor back to be auctioned off again.

This time, a local couple won the bidding with $100,000.

Then donated the tractor back to be auctioned off again.

And so it went. It sold again and again.


By the end of the night, Michael Sullivan -- through those family and friends and some people who didn’t even know him -- had raised $464,000 for leukemia research at Mayo Clinic.

“It just blows our minds,” Dan told the Post Bulletin. “To come together and care that much ... we’re just so excited about it.”

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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