What does it take to make a difference in the world?
For every individual, there is a different way to answer that question. For some, it’s giving money to causes they believe in; for others, they volunteer their time.
For John Farr of State College, it is both of those things and something more.
At age 79, Farr isn’t exactly a spring chicken, but he isn’t ready to hang up his hammer just yet either, or his bicycle. And he uses both to make a difference in the lives of families.
Originally from Highland Park, Ill., Farr received a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Northwestern University, and then went on to earn a Master’s degree in physics
In 1966, he started teaching at Penn State’s Beaver Campus, then transferred to the DuBois campus in 1972 while moving to State College to live.
Farr said he has always been involved in his community, tutoring two African-American students in Chicago prior to graduating in 1966, coaching sports and so on.
It was in 1994, however, that a new enterprise entered his life. When passing by Lezzer Lumber in DuBois, he saw they were having an event regarding Habitat for Humanity. Curious, he turned the car around to see what it was all about.
While there, he said, he talked to a very nice lady and decided that he wanted to help. “I believed in giving locally,” he said, “and so I started donating $10 per month.”
Before long, he was being asked to become more involved in the local organization, eventually joining the board and serving as president.
Being part of an organization that builds houses for families quickly brings the understanding that sometimes there never seems to be enough money to go around, and like other charitable organizations, Habitat holds fundraisers both nationally and locally.
One such event in 2001 caught his eye, a fundraising bike ride from New York City to Philadelphia, which he thought he could manage, and also additionally use to raise money for the local organization.
“I raised $1,200 for our affiliate and $600 for the affiliate in New York and had fun doing it,” he said.
Since retiring in 2003, he’s taken yearly fundraising rides, and in 19 years he’s raised about $150,000, enough to finance a couple of the homes.
Often these rides are taken alone, but occasionally he can find someone to ride with him. His son rode with him on his Pittsburgh to Philadelphia trip, and two years ago a friend, John Dillon, participated.
He added that three times, he was able to tag along with a West Virginia to Presque Isle double century event sponsored by Habitat for Humanity of Greene County.
He prefers starting out from the DuBois area, and the destinations depend largely on his interest in the end point. For example, he enjoys riding to Niagara Falls because crossing the border at the Peace Bridge is “a fun little adventure” and he also enjoys staying overnight at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora.
He is hoping that next year he will be able to ride to Washington, D.C. and visit his great-granddaughter, provided that COVID-19 restrictions are eased or lifted altogether.
The amount he raises varies, but last year was a banner year with $17,800 raised, which directly helps lift families out of poverty housing, giving them a hand up toward a brighter future.
This year, beginning Sept. 11, Farr will be biking 500 miles in eight days, biking in the central Pennsylvania area.
To follow his journey, learn more about the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate and to donate, you can visit www.bike2build.org. You can also donate by mail with checks made payable to Habitat for Humanity of Clearfield County, P.O. Box 463, DuBois PA, 15801.