‘Ruby Strong’ truck drives support for family, awareness of leukemia

Ruby Ihm, 4, is seen with Matt Rutkowski (from left), Georgia Ihm, 9, Stefan Rutkowski, Dan Ihm, Chelsey Ihm and Steve Ihm in front of an Allied Redi-Mix & Stone truck in Lancaster, Wis., on Sunday. Allied Redi-Mix dedicated one of its trucks to Ruby, who is battling leukemia, and her uncle Dan drives it. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

LANCASTER, Wis. — Having a child diagnosed with cancer is news that no family wants to hear.

So when the owners of a Lancaster business learned that one of their employees had a niece battling leukemia, they decided to do something to show their support.

Allied Redi-Mix & Stone, which provides concrete and limestone mix as well as excavation and grading services to southwestern Wisconsin, recently dedicated one of its trucks to 4-year-old Ruby Ihm, of Lancaster, who is currently fighting leukemia. Her uncle, Dan Ihm, is the employee who drives the truck.

“I’m proud of it,” Dan said. “It’s just the fact that it’s my niece, so it’s an honor to be able to do something like that.”

Ruby was diagnosed with leukemia in January. Since then, her parents, Chelsey and Steve Ihm, have learned to navigate frequent drives to Iowa City for chemotherapy, steroids and blood tests.

“Each day is different,” Chelsey said. “You have ups and downs. With the type of cancer she has, there is a high (chance) that she will beat it, so you have to … just try to be as positive as you can, but you do have good days and bad.”

When Dan told Allied Redi-Mix & Stone co-owners Matt and Stefan Rutkowski about his niece’s diagnosis, the cousins wanted to help if they could.

“We had planned on redoing some trucks this year, and we’ve always talked about doing an awareness truck,” Matt said. “It happened to be that Dan’s truck was the last one that we were doing … and we thought maybe we should dedicate this truck to Ruby to help raise awareness for leukemia.”

The Rutkowskis kept the truck a secret from Dan while it was being designed and painted, finally revealing the finished product the day before Dan’s birthday in May.

“I was surprised (and) kind of speechless,” Dan said. “I took in the moment and just didn’t have much to say just because I have so much appreciation for them and knew (my) family would be very appreciative.”

The next day, Dan told Chelsey, Steve, Ruby and her 9-year-old sister Georgia to meet him outside their house.

It may have been his birthday, but he was going to bring them a surprise.

“Dan got everybody together at our house, and we didn’t have a clue what was going on,” Chelsey said. “We came outside, and I heard a truck backing up.”

Then she noticed the design on the truck: large orange-and-blue letters proclaiming “Leukemia Awareness” and “Ruby Strong.”

“We always tell (Ruby) she’s brave, strong and beautiful,” Chelsey said. “It was very, very touching and generous.”

“It’s pretty neat that Dan’s fortunate enough to work for a company that cares about not only him but also his family as well,” Steve agreed.

Dan has now been driving the truck for over a month. Area residents have been sending pictures and messages of support to the Ihm family when they see Dan on the road.

“I don’t think you can do enough to raise awareness of (leukemia),” Dan said. “Every little bit helps for everyone, and not just my family, but other families out there.”

Ruby will continue receiving treatment until March of 2022, and she “just keeps smiling,” according to Steve.

For now, the “Ruby Strong” truck is a tangible reminder for the Ihms of their community’s support during a difficult time.

“It’s very humbling to know that so many people care about your family,” Chelsey said. “There are dark times through this journey, and sometimes you do feel alone and you feel like you can’t crawl out of that hole, but on a bad day, you just have to think of that truck and (remember) there are amazing people out there to hold you up and get you through.”