Pulling for Mark Willis

Friends, family and pullers unite to support hospice-bound cancer patient




STEPHENVILLE (April 6, 2016) – The grumble of souped-up engines. Dust flying. Wheels rolling. Onlookers and participants ranging in age from newborn to 99. Nothing says springtime in a rural America like a good old-fashioned truck and tractor pull.

“That’s what my dad loved – and still loves,” Emilye Willis said of her father, Mark Willis. “He’s been so sick, he hasn’t been able to go to pulls for a while.”

For almost three years, Mark has fought a courageous battle against cancer. What started as metastasized melanoma on his calf has spread throughout his body.

“Since November, dad has spent all of his time in the hospital or sick at home,” Emilye said. “We spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday and Valentine’s Day in the hospital.”

Mark has put up one heck of a fight. Emilye said around Valentine’s Day her father began experiencing seizures and doctors said he would never wake up.

Emilye and Mark Willis
Emilye and Mark Willis

“I don’t know if you’re a believer, but we believe,” she said. “We had a huge prayer circle around dad while he was seizing, foaming at mouth. About 20 minutes later, he woke up and knew us all. We were told – and even thought – it was over then, but it wasn’t. My dad is a very, very strong man.”

Now, more than a month later, the dreadful disease continues its course through Mark’s body. He was recently placed on hospice care after undergoing as much chemotherapy as doctors would allow.

“This is not the update I was hoping to make,” a post made April 4 to the Mark Willis Medical & Cancer Fund says. “Mark’s been referred to hospice. His doctors have all said anymore treatment would do more harm than good. The latest scans showed an increase in cancer spots all over his brain in addition to his lungs and in the bone of his ribs. At this time the main concern is pain control as this has been a constant problem now since the end of January.” 

But family and friends are not preparing to mourn the loss of his bigger than life personality. Instead, they are banding together, hooking up to a sled, letting their engines roar, blowing tons of black smoke and honoring his life and legacy at a benefit hotrod tractor and truck pull set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Stephenville City Park.

“His insurance will only pay for seven to 10 days of hospice care,” Emilye said, adding that she decided to organize a “Pull for Mark” fundraising tractor and truck pull and silent auction to support her father and mother, Laura. Saturday seemed like the perfect time, Albeit last minute.

Mark owns Bosque Flats Diesel on Lingleville Highway. Emilye and her brother Matt have been running the diesel business during Mark’s illness. He also co-owns HWH Pulling Sled, Inc. The business, Mark and fellow owners Gary Henderson and Jeff Holveck are known in pulling circles across the state.

HWH Crew works on sled

HWH takes its self-propelled sled to various locations – Glen Rose, Bremond, Johnson City and beyond. Pulling enthusiasts hitch their antique, modified and hot rod tractors or four-wheel drive pick-up trucks to the sled to determine who has the meanest machine.

Saturday morning, the HWH sled will roll into city park where Erath County Antique Tractor and Machinery Clubs hosts its 20th Annual Show and Pull. After that event winds down, the HWH crew will stick around and pull for Mark.

“I contacted (a HWH) co-owner and asked if we could have a separate pull for dad,” Emilye said. “That was his thing. Growing up, he was gone to pulls about every weekend, if the pulls were close to home, we would all go.”

Family and friends hope entrants in the earlier show will stick around to show their support, but Emilye said the benefit will also welcome modified trucks to the event.

“That was our thing – our family hobby,” she said. “My brother and I both have highly-modified trucks and that’s definitely because of dad.”

Pull for Mark

If all goes as planned, the whole family, including Mark and Laura, will be at the fundraiser, which gets rolling at 5:30 p.m. and is expected to continue until dark. The entry fee is $20 per hook.

Meanwhile, individuals who would like to offer support to the Willis family and unable to attend the pull and silent auction are being directed to the online donation page, gofundme.com/vag77fxg .

Sarah Daniel is working to collect silent auction items for the event. Individuals, businesses and organizations can donate auction items by calling her at (254) 979-1165, email svanden8088@gmail.com or drop off donations by 4 p.m. Friday at Zen Spa in Stephenville’s Bosque River Centre.

“We appreciate all the love, support and prayers,” Emilye said.

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