GREELEY (AP) – Though Sandi Elder knows better, she has an occasional nickname for her husband: She calls him “Stoic ‘Ole Willie.”
You might not ever get to see the Tootsie Roll under that hard exterior, unless you mention Layne Pachl, the 20-year-old who saved Sandi’s life.
Then Willie starts crying.
That’s why, for many days in the past year, Willie got up early, sometimes at 3 a.m., to work on the 1965 Mustang.
Willie is a handyman who works full-time at a church and part-time pouring concrete and other odd jobs while his wife, Sandi, works at North Colorado Medical Center and is running for the Board of Weld County Commissions after spending eight years on the Greeley City Council.
Willie also is a genius at restoring old cars.
He’s made some into barbecue grills, which got him on a TV show. He’s turned others into cars, like the 1940 Chevy Truck that he and Sandi still use for their date nights.
A month after Layne donated a kidney to save Sandi from a genetic condition that had her on dialysis, Willie found the Mustang.
Time had been cruel to it. It was a rusted-out old hunk of metal, not even close to its former glory. Willie would have to replace the floor boards. Heck, he’d have to replace everything. This wouldn’t be a restoration. It would be a rebuild.
He and Sandi talked it over at Carl’s Jr., and they decided not to do it. It would be too much work. Then Willie’s phone rang. It was the seller, who knew why Willie was buying the husk. He offered to knock a few hundred more off the price.
That seemed like fate, the kind that brought Layne to Sandi’s doorstep last year and gave his wife a new life. Willie agreed to go to work.
Sometimes the hunt for parts can be harder than restoring a car. But the 1965 Mustang is the world’s most rebuilt car, Willie said, because there are so many parts available for it. He would need them.
Willie went to work in June while Sandi reveled in her new energy. He spent 10 hours per week replacing the wheels and the steering wheel and the red and white upholstery, detailed with horses galloping across the seats. Willie picked the Mustang not only because it’s a cool car and it’s easy to find parts. Layne has horses on her parents’ rural property far out on the edge of Greeley. She loves them.
Some offered to donate to cover the cost, but the Elders believed they needed to sacrifice the same way Layne did. It’s a gift, so they don’t want to say how much, but Willie mentioned it’s thousands.
“It’s pretty much a new car,” he said.
He had help, mostly from two 80-year-old friends who love cars and acted as extra eyes for Willie. Sometimes it’s hard to see straight at 3 a.m., and they checked his work.
“I heard, ‘Uh, Willie, that’s upside down,’ a lot,” Willie said.
Layne went to Easter service with the Elders. She remains family to them. She just turned 21 and celebrated with Sandi’s son and daughter-in-law who are closer in age.
There are strict rules about enticing or paying donors for an organ. But Layne didn’t ask for anything but Sandi’s friendship. A year to the day after Layne revealed herself to Sandi as her donor, on a rainy afternoon, on May 18, Sandi and Willie presented the car to Layne.
Willie still needs to do some last-second things to it, including some windshield wipers. It’s a fun weekend car, not something to drive all the time, and it runs great but may leak at times.
Layne didn’t care. She cried “hysterically,” as she put it, upon receiving the car. She plans to use it the way Willie intended, as a fun way to go somewhere for a weekend.
Willie was once so worried about Layne, who was barely 20 at the time, he looked upon Sandi with disdain after she was yelping in pain moments after waking up from the surgery.
“Layne’s surgery was worse,” said Stoic ‘Ole Willie.
Friday afternoon, he looked over at his wife, who was in tears after talking about the precious chance to see her young grandchildren graduate from high school. That’s a chance she wouldn’t have had without Layne’s kidney. He thinks about the special message he put in the car on the dashboard from Sandi: “My Hero For Life! 5/31/2017.”
He’s not sorry to see it go despite all the hours and money he put into it.
“I got the better deal,” Willie said.