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A Project For The Grandkids Even Cancer Can't Stop

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon speaks with Vean Woodbrey of Petersboro, Utah, about his race against cancer to finish reconstructing a full-sized carousel for his 70 grandchildren.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Vean Woodbrey of Petersboro, Utah is 69 years old, and he may be working on his last important project. The father of 16 children and over 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren is battling cancer. He musters the strength he has every day to work on restoring a 1930s antique carousel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

SIMON: Mr. Woodbrey.

VEAN WOODBREY: Yes.

SIMON: Mind if we interrupt your work for a moment?

WOODBREY: No. It's nice to sit down and relax once in a while and not breathe sawdust.

SIMON: Help us understand what restoring this carousel means to you.

WOODBREY: I've always loved carousels. And the opportunity came up that I could get an old carousel frame that was sitting out behind a barn. And I picked it up. And I had cancer, so I come up with all kinds of things while I was busy feeling sorry for myself. And I wanted to do this. I'm trying to go over and above to make sure that I have wheel locks and a bench to sit on for those who can't sit on a horse and go up and down or all these other things. It means a lot to me to make things available for all those who can't enjoy life like the rest of us. We need to give them a chance in life to enjoy those little things that a lot of us take for granted.

SIMON: Yeah. I gather you're carving the animals now?

WOODBREY: Yes. That's what I'm doing now. I'm working on a Pegasus right now and trying to figure out how to give him a set of feathers. I got a tiger out there. I got a lion. I got a camel.

SIMON: Mr. Woodbrey, you know, as we noticed, you're battling cancer and I'm told you also suffer from neuropathy, which is losing sensitivity in your extremities.

WOODBREY: Um-hum.

SIMON: How hard is the work for you?

WOODBREY: It's slow. I have to sit down to work on things, so I can't stand up. Makes it a little harder around some of the tools. I'm still getting it done.

SIMON: Do you children, grandchildren, check in, see how the work is going?

WOODBREY: When they come to visit, the first place they go is in my shop because they want to ride the animals. Sometimes they want to help. They wanted to help me paint once and one of them went home with red paint on him. But the role for the grandkids is, is that their parents have to know they're going to go home a lot dirtier than what they was when they dropped them off. So, that makes it fun.

SIMON: Yeah. What's this mean to your family, Mr. Woodbrey?

WOODBREY: My boy told me that it gave me something to live for. Getting up and getting out and working gets me moving. It's probably keeping me from being depressed, thinking about what I do have or not being able to do it that keeps me going. And so I'm trying to restore and bring this carousel back to life and I think it's doing the same thing for me. I think the two of us are keeping one another going.

SIMON: When it's done, where is the carousel going to go?

WOODBREY: Out in my front yard. Anybody can come ride it. I'm not putting it together to hide it. Come on over. We'll take it for a spin. I've decided to call it the White Knight Carousel. The white knight's kind of a symbol for strength. I think I'll just dedicate it to families everywhere - not just my family but everybody's family.

SIMON: Well, take care of yourself, Mr. Woodbrey.

WOODBREY: Thank you very much. Now, I'm going to have to get it finished.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Well, good for you. Vean Woodbrey in Petersboro, Utah, who's building an amusement park-sized carousel for his family and his community and anybody else who shows up and wants a great ride. Thanks so much, Mr. Woodbrey.

WOODBREY: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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