Pancakes, planes and fun

A good number of experimental airplanes, pilots and visitors attend the Lions Club of New Ulm Fly-In Breakfast at the New Ulm Municipal Airport Sunday.

A good number of experimental airplanes, pilots and visitors attend the Lions Club of New Ulm Fly-In Breakfast at the New Ulm Municipal Airport Sunday.

NEW ULM — A large crowd of people attended the Lions Club of New Ulm 44th Annual Fly-In Pancake Breakfast but it was a 74-year-old German immigrant that may have been the most interesting story at the New Ulm Municipal Airport Sunday.

Riding a very energy-efficient bicycle across the country thanking America for liberating her family from Nazi Germany and raising money for Leader Dogs for the Blind as a Lions Tail-Twister, Hanna Elshoff is a Lion member herself riding her solar dream on wheels.

Living in a small German village at age 18, Elshoff told her father she wanted to come to America. He told her to wait until she was 21, but she had other ideas.

Residents of Fort Dodge, Iowa, sponsored Elshoff to come to America. Over the next two years, she saved her money and bought a bicycle. Her next dream was riding it to Texas to visit some friends.

Hanna’s sponsor mother disagreed, telling her such a trip was too dangerous. Elshoff never biked to Texas. But she was married and unmarried, had children, became a foster parent and a nanny, and ran her brother’s dairy farm near Chatfield. On top of that, she worked nights as a nursing assistant for more than two decades.

Dreaming about having the freedom she didn’t have at 20 at a much later age, Elshoff joined the Toastmasters. She credited that organization for giving her the drive to realize her dreams.

A few years ago, she began spending much of her time raising money for prisoners to train puppies to become Leader Dogs for the Blind.

The Lions support better eyesight. If a person is blind, they help find them a leader dog.

A couple years ago, Hanna attended the Lions Club International Convention in Hamburg, Germany. After talking with international Lions officers about her dream of riding a bicycle across the United States to raise money for the leader dog program, her dream came true when the Lions agreed to sponsor her.

Elshoff’s recumbent bicycle surrounded fiberglass body has a solar panel on most of the roof, two batteries under the seat, a rear electric motor and storage room. Photos of her grandchildren and other people she has cared for adorn the interior.

Most of the time, she pedals the bicycle. She uses the electric motor to help power the 150-pound bike on long hills. The solar panel recharges the battery.

Hanna has spoken in schools, churches, to Lions clubs and other organizations about what the U.S. has enabled her to do.

“America saved my life, Toastmasters saved my soul, and the Lions gave me purpose,” she said.

Elshoff plans her trips in great detail. She phones people ahead of time and often stays overnight with her newfound friends.

With plenty of pedaling, Hanna rides her bicycle about 30 miles a day on her road trips.

Her bike includes small LED turn signals, headlights and taillights and a windshield wiper. About eight grocery bags can be carried in the rear of the bike.

Her travel itinerary includes another dream — meeting former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in his home of Plains, Ga. and having him sign her Certificate of U.S. Naturalization. The certificate was earlier signed by President Gerald Ford. She said she admired Carter for his ability to become president after farming earlier in this life.

Hanna said she won’t talk to people about politics or religion unless they bring up the subject.

She can be followed on Facebook.

“I’m having the time of my life riding this bicycle and making new friends,” Elshoff said.

The only thing she has to defend herself is a tiny rubber ducky.

“If someone holds me up with a gun or another weapon, I’ll show them my rubber ducky,” Hanna said.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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