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Cruising to help cancer

Eagles, cancer, car show, cruise, Owatonna
Rich Granowski of Owatonna shows off his 1964 Chevy Corvair Monza Thursday night at the Summer Car Cruise In at the Eagles Club in Owatonna. More than 40 classic vehicles took part in the car show, which continues weekly on Thursdays through the end of August. Staff photo by Rick Bussler
Rick Bussler, Publisher

Brett Carlson is arguably going the extra mile in battling cancer both in his professional and personal lives.

By day, he works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester assisting with cancer research. And by night, at least during the summer months on Thursdays, he’s soliciting money to fund the research he performs to find cures for cancer.

Carlson joined other volunteers Thursday night at the Eagles Club in Owatonna grilling hamburgers and serving refreshments for the first of several Summer Car Shows to be held through the end of August. On this night, 43 car owners cruised in with their classics for display in the Eagles lot.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to do this,” Carlson said as he flipped another burger. “We love cars and love to raise money for charity. It’s a win-win.”

All the money raised from the summer car shows is donated for cancer research. The Owatonna Eagles Club has donated $19,500 from two years of car cruises and a few other smaller fundraisers, according to Carlson.

The funds are donated to the Eagles January telethon in Rochester before getting distributed to three organizations: Hormel Institute in Austin, Mayo Clinic Cancer Research in Rochester, and U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. Last year, the telethon raised $1 million for cancer research, with all of it staying in Minnesota, Carlson said.

Carlson, who has worked in a cancer research lab for 23 years, primarily focuses on brain cancer. “We work on the very aggressive ones—anything that goes to the brain,” he said.

He models his work after Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

And Carlson also has a personal stake in his crusade to fight cancer. His wife, Gina, has battled breast cancer in the past.

“It’s very near and dear to my heart,” Carlson said. “Everyone has a tie to it in some shape or form.”

Les Abraham and Wes Schlichter founded the Eagles car show about 18 years ago. Wes and his wife, Debbie, were involved for about the first 10 years before passing Carlson the reins. Debbie Schlichter has lost her grandmother and father to cancer.

Last week’s cruise featured several classics, including a 1954 Chrysler, 1955 Chevy Nomad, 1960 Ford T-Bird, 1964 Corvair Monza, and 1965 Dune Buggy.

Rich Granowski of Owatonna brought his 1964 Corvair, which is quite the conversation piece with the engine in the rear and gas tank in the front.

“Everything is ass backwards (on the car),” said Granowski, who has owned the car for about 15 years. “Young people don’t know what it is, and many older people have owned a Corvair.”

Granowski loves to bring out the car to various shows. “It’s fun to drive, and it causes a lot of curiosity,” he said. “And I love to talk to people about it.”

There is no entry fee for the car show, though trophies are awarded for People’s Choice. Everyone has a chance to vote for their favorite classic.

“We never turn anyone away,” Carlson said. “We’ve even had a boat once.”

The car show is free for anyone to come and walk around. The Eagles offer food and refreshments throughout the evening. Carlson plans to go every Thursday until at least the end of August and is considering extending it through September depending on the weather.

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