Friends for life.
Toby Welsh did what any true friend would do when Mark Fandel lost his good health and nearly all of his money. He did everything possible to help him.
His close friend for more than 30 years, Welsh offered him a job and organized a benefit fundraiser for him despite never having planned such an event before.
Fandel was diagnosed with cancer in January 2020. Already undergoing chemotherapy treatments, he accepted a technician job at Midwest Duct Works in Forest City, working for Welsh.
To make matters more challenging, he was scammed out of the money in his bank account at a time when he needs it most. With his medical expenses building, Welsh, along with a large group of caring, supportive people, took it upon themselves to help right a wrong situation.
“This is the best kind of medication I can have,” said Fandel. “Some things in life are completely uncontrollable, but some things you can control. Toby realized this and did something amazing here."
"So many people have come together and done a lot of work pulling this together," he continued. "I am amazed at all the things people have donated and how they are helping me.”
Fandel noted that he did not know many people in the community. He keeps working because it helps keep him in the right frame of mind. Fandel said he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in men – breast cancer. He underwent a mastectomy and remains optimistic about regaining his health.
“They caught it pretty early at stage 2,” he said, noting that Welsh is very supportive and makes sure he makes his chemotherapy appointments. “He’s always positive, upbeat, and helps keep me on track.”
Fandel started working for Welsh on Aug. 15. He cleans dryer vents and is learning to clean duct work with a current focus on cleaning chimneys and doing chimney inspections and repairs.
He had previously worked as an auto body repair specialist since the 1980s. Fandel has recently been working about 15 hours a week, balancing fatigue and symptoms from the medical treatments with his ability to work.
“Toby kept saying that I should come here,” said Fandel of his recent move to Forest City from the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area. “This is a great place to be. People here reach out to help each other, which is different than a lot of big cities. I am extremely grateful for their prayers, thoughts and well wishes from across the whole community.”
Fandel grew up in Whittemore, graduated from Bishop Garrigan High School in Algona, and attended Iowa Lakes Community College. He and Welsh met in Newton over three decades ago. Fandel has two sisters in the Algona area and a brother in Jefferson. He has two sons, Matthew (and his grandson Corben), in Emmetsburg and Mitchell (and his grandson Zeke) in Florida. He also has a daughter, Megan.
“The benefit was my idea after he got scammed out of his money,” said Welsh. “I’ve never done a benefit before, but I’ve been to a lot of them. It’s all going to his medical needs and getting his vehicle fixed. We wanted people to get together and have fun at the same time.”
And they did on Feb. 21, enjoying food for free-will donations and the Kilroy Band, which performed classic rock and blues music. The same band has previously helped raise money to fight against cancer, performing on the Eagles Cancer Telethon 2020.
Welsh noted that one of the band members had cancer and beat it, which has been encouraging for Fandel. Jared Wingert of Mojo Productions in Britt provided disc jockey services for the benefit.
“We had a great turnout, everyone had fun and was safe,” said Welsh. “Mark made many new friends.”
Every kind of donation available was made, including woodworking, Terry Redlin Collector Plates, handmade signage, rock and roll memorabilia, every kind of food, gift baskets, concert tickets, a working classic Coca Cola cooler, a parts washer with pump, all manner of Bath & Body Works products, a guitar signed by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and much more.
Welsh said the Coca Cola cooler was donated by one of his Forest City customers who wished to remain anonymous. He noted that the same customer provided a large number of never-used Tree Town Festival T-shirts, which is now a collector’s item as the festival has been renamed Country Thunder.
“Toby Welsh, this is insane,” said Fandel’s son, Mitchell, via Facebook. “You and everyone else involved have gone way above the call of duty. Thanks to everyone who has donated or bid in the silent auction. I talked to Mark Fandel and he is so appreciative and overwhelmed by all the support. I wish I could be there.”
Every donated item was sold, making the silent auction a smashing success. Additional donations keep rolling in, but initially approximately $6,000 was raised with about 250 people attending throughout the day on Feb. 21.
Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.