Remember in the movie 'Field of Dreams' when Kevin Costner's character hears voices telling him, "If you build it they will come?" Dean Troutman had a similar experience among the cornfields of Illinois…not far from Costner's "Field of Dreams" in nearby Iowa.
But for the 84-year-old man it was more of a yearning in his heart rather than whispering voices.
Mr. Troutman loved his wife Dorothy "Peggy" Troutman so deeply for 62 years, that when she died, he HAD to build a lasting tribute to their love story.
Troutman says, 'Buildings don't last, but land is forever!'
That's why he built a five and a half acre park in Princeville for everyone to use, with a Little League field, a football/soccer field, concession stand and restrooms. It was a massive project but he is not done!
So...right about now you're wondering, why is Maureen writing about a man 1,100 miles away in the Village of Princeville, Illinois for a Mo's Heroes blog in Charlotte?
It's pretty simple. Part of the legacy of the immense love between Dean and Peggy lives here, his granddaughter, Heidi Christ Colberg.
"He is not only an inspiration to the community but he is someone I am proud to call my Grandpa," Heidi wrote on my Facebook page. I was immediately hooked once I learned about this amazing grandfather, father, husband and inspiration.
Dean Troutman is walking across the state of Illinois right now. In the process, he's raising money to expand the park in Peggy's memory. He's covering 700 miles in three and half months...walking about 10 to 12 miles a day.
"He decided instead of sitting at home and doing nothing, he was going to do this trek through Illinois and different areas that he and Grandma visited. He'll visit the town they grew up in. He's even going to the town where they were married. And get this, in one of his stops, he'll attend his 67 high school reunion," Colberg told me.
I spoke to him by phone Friday. He had just finished his 10 miles for the day.
When I asked if he was ever worried he wouldn't be able to take on such a big trip, he told me he'd packed a photograph of his beloved.
"I put it in my back pack right next to my back. And I said I am not sure I can do this alone, but with you on my back I know I can," he told me.
To look at the pictures of 'Troutman's Trek', it's clear, he's bringing smiles everywhere he goes.
Most towns have hundreds of people greet him. There have been marching bands. Some fire departments offer him shelter at the fire house. Mr. Troutman poses for pictures, spends time talking to strangers, making friends and shaking hands. He shares the story of what Troutman's Park has meant for his town of 1,700 neighbors.
The park is the centerpiece of activities when the winter freeze thaws. Baseball gloves are oiled; most weekends there are non-stop games…picnics…and best of all, laughter. Mr. Troutman has created what he wanted…a place for community, where family memories are imprinted on hearts.
This all on land dedicated to the woman who captured his heart so long ago.
Troutman wants the park to live on even after he dies. That's why he's raising money on his long journey. "He wants to expand it and make sure generations to come can still enjoy it. He wants to add a playground for the little ones...and basically keep it going," his granddaughter told me.
When I asked him about the huge response across the state he told me, "It has been unbelievable. I can't believe how nice it is...how people have responded. These little kids, the grade schoolers, they are so interested in this. They can ask a million questions... that's what it's all for - these little kids! I'm just so overwhelmed I can't believe it."
In the end of her life, Parkinson's disease took its toll on Peggy's body. But her loving husband Dean was right by her side.
"When she started going downhill he refused to put her in the retirement home," according to Heidi. "He always wanted her to have her dignity. That's why he took care of her until the end. He even built a home that would accommodate her wheelchair. He just truly loved my grandma."
After talking to Mr. Troutman it's hard to tell who is inspiring whom! He had a lilt in his voice that is indicative of joy...overflowing joy! And it's infectious. He seems to bring out the best in all the people he meets.
Along the road when his dentures broke, soon after, a woman offered him fruit. He kindly said could only manage the banana.
In Greenfield, the local dentist repaired his dentures. When his cassette player broke, word spread quickly. Somehow, someone found a working cassette player so there was music again for Troutman along the road!
He said he's meeting the nicest people in the world. Funny, they're saying the same thing about you, Mr. Troutman!
His story made me realize from love, grows love. Until a few weeks ago, Dean and Peggy Troutman's life together and lasting love was certainly known by their family and the people of Princeville.
But now, thanks to his determination and our desire to believe in true lasting love, we're all being touched by their story. Who knows, maybe when he visits his family in Mooresville we can show him the same kind of welcome he's getting on the road in Illinois?
Thank you, Dean Troutman, for helping us see no matter what age we can all make a difference. And maybe someone reading this blog will look across the table tonight and realize how lucky they are…and tell that person, "I love you", because they can!
Please submit your "Mo's Hero" on the Maureen O'Boyle WBTV page by sending me a direct message. This series won't work without your help!! Thanks so much!