DEXTER — "God even watches over chubby, old cowboys," laughed a robust Gary Rhine, referring to his recovery just one year ago from Chondrosarcoma, a type of malignant tumor that is typically found in the cartilage cells of the femur, arm, pelvis, knee or spine.
In Rhine's case, it was the pelvic bone that was affected.
Doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis removed a tumor nearly a foot in length and about five inches in width from around the pelvic bone, actually removing a portion of the pelvic bone itself in the process and repositioning it with the help of wire and metal that continues to hold Gary Rhine's pelvis in place.
The Malden auctioneer, with his trademark handlebar mustache and Stetson in place, may not have the same spring in his step that he had a year ago, but the twinkle in his eye, coupled with a deep appreciation for the second chance he has been afforded in life, more than make up for his lack of speed and mobility.
Following surgery last year, he advanced from a bed to a wheelchair to a walker and then to a sturdy cane, which seems now to serve as another appendage. He is never without it at his right side.
It was during Rhine's recovery period over a two-month stay at a nursing facility in Gideon that he became acquainted with the efforts of a charity called 18 FORE Life when his wife of 40 years appeared at the facility one day with a $1,000 check in hand.
"Linda came to see me one evening and had this check that had arrived unannounced in the mail at home," Rhine explained.
"It was for $1,000 and neither of us had any idea why some organization called '18 FORE Life' would be sending us money. I told her to put it in the bank but not to spend a penny of it in case we had to give it back," Rhine said.
The following day, from the nursing facility, Rhine went to work, as he said, "to see what this 18 FORE Life thing is all about."
Through a channel of friends and relatives, it wasn't long before the Rhines discovered exactly why they received that check and exactly what 18 FORE Life was.
He learned of the organization's origin and its efforts to assist cancer patients by contributing money to help defray the expenses that a cancer diagnosis brings.
After a call to Scott Kruse, organizer of the annual charity based in Dexter, Rhine went to work to support the cause that came to his aid at one of the most challenging times in his 59 years.
Each year at the annual 18 FORE Life Banquet, which took place on Friday, a silent auction is held to assist in the fundraising efforts that coincide with the golf charity.
An auctioneer since the 1970s, Rhine had an idea.
"I told Scott I'd like to take the idea of having an auction that night just a little further and have a live auction. I told him I'm in the auction business, and that's all I know how to do. I want to raise ten times what you sent me," Rhine said.
Through some connections in the Nashville area, Rhine established an impressive catalog of items that were to be auctioned off during Friday's banquet, including several NASCAR-related items and several items connected to top stars within the country music field.
"We've got a Charlie Daniels fiddle and case to auction off and an autographed Alan Jackson CD and songbook, along with a Dale Earnhardt race jacket, a George Strait autographed tour jacket, an autographed Jeff Gordon flat top guitar and several other NASCAR and music-related items," Rhine said.
Perhaps the biggest draw, however, that Rhine made possible was an autographed Kenny Rogers flat top guitar, the only item secured by Rhine that was raffled off rather than auctioned.
A colorful character who is on a mission to help cancer patients in the same manner by which he was helped himself, Rhine was intent on raising at least $10,000 during the live auction at 18 FORE Life's banquet.
To sweeten the pot, Kruse placed a challenge of his own on the table, stating that if Rhine could top the $10,000 amount promised, he would allow his head to be shaved in front of the banquet crowd.
Not to be outdone, Rhine voiced a challenge of his own.
"If we can raise $15,000, I'll have my head shaved too," Rhine said, adding, "Now that doesn't include the mustache."
Rhine says he doesn't have much of a story to tell. He much prefers to tell someone else's story than his own, but 18 FORE Life banquet attendees were treated to Rhine's story firsthand. Rhine was one of the two scheduled speakers to address the banquet crowd.
After Rhine's presentation, Jon Sundvold, Missouri Tiger great and a 16th-round pick in the NBA draft, also addressed the banquet's crowd. Sundvold is currently a businessman in Columbia.
As an added bonus for this year's 18 FORE Life crowd, Dexter's own Lt. General Clyde Vaughn, who currently serves as director of the U.S. National Guard at the Pentagon, also was to be present at the banquet.
"Vaughn has a surprise from some friends at NASCAR who have found out a bit about 18 FORE Life," Kruse said.
A 2009 Club Car and trailer valued at over $5,500 was given away at the banquet and the BUZZ, Kruse's 70s and 80s cover band, wrapped up the night of celebrating, giving and remembering.