Highland Park visited by gift-bearing Tennessee man and his 'Truckster'
Whether in Tennessee or in Highland Park, it's hard not to notice when Dave Moore rolls out the Truckster.
Pea green, decorated with "wooden" panels, funny stickers and signs, luggage on the rooftop rack -- or a big, lighted Christmas tree in the winter -- the retired Knoxville high school teacher and football coach modeled his 1986 Ford Country Squire Wagon to look like the Griswold family vehicle in the 1980s-era National Lampoon movie "Vacation" starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo (and written by Northbrook native John Hughes).
The Trucksters are a hit on the parade circuit near Knoxville. The Country Squire, the "Tiny Truckster" that is a converted 1993 Ford Escort Wagon, and a 1996 Winnebago motor home turned into "Cousin Eddie's RV," all are part of his own Knoxville-based CARE 365 nonprofit company geared to bring people joy.
Moore's favorite parade happens on the Fourth of July. His grandsons toss out candy, "Lean on Me" blares over the exterior speakers, and at route's end he'll meet up with his two sons and more grandchildren.
This July 4 saw another happy outing. Then Moore returned home.
"When I get home and I sit on the couch and turn on the TV and see what happened here in Highland Park, it was like a dagger went through my heart and a sledgehammer went upside my head at the same time," Moore said.
He said, "here in Highland Park" because from Aug. 2-6 he visited for CARE 365's "Hats and Hearts for Highland Park" tour.
The 68-year-old bundled up the Escort, a gas mileage winner, and drove from Tennessee laden with Tennessee and Volunteers hats, ball caps, T-shirts and small, handmade crosses donated by local police and fire departments, citizens, even Volunteers women's basketball coach Kellie Harper.
He made cards to pass out printed with the Ralph Waldo Emerson poem, "This Is My Wish for You."
No donations required, lodging on his own dime, he wanted nothing in return, said Moore, still known locally as "Coach."
"I'm still a coach because I feel that I'm a coach in the most important game, and that's the game of life," Moore said.
He said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally all provided letters of support.
Moore re-christened the Escort as the "Highland Park Memorial Truckster," replaced the "Summer Vacation" decorations with appropriate messages, stickers and signs on each side of the vehicle, including seven large hearts with crosses in them for those killed on July 4, 45 small hearts for those injured, and another big one for Cooper Roberts, the 8-year-old boy paralyzed in the attack. Cooper got his very own bag of Tennessee goodies, Moore said.
Not necessarily a mission from God, though the mission supported those principles.
"We should care about each other every day of the year unconditionally and nonjudgmentally and not just care about each other on birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas ... It's common sense, we should want to bring joy and happiness to people," Moore said.
His motto is "Care more, complain less."
This isn't the first time Moore has gone out of state as part of CARE 365.
In January 2019 he left Knoxville, the Truckster's Christmas tree and lights intact, headed for Barron, Wisconsin. After being held for months by a man who killed her parents and kidnapped her, Jayme Closs of Barron had escaped. Moore ended up staying a week.
"It was a celebration, so to speak, that she was found and she was alive," Moore said. "I wanted to give that community a Christmas they didn't have."
Such were his feelings when he and a fellow traveler, who chose to remain anonymous, made their way 9 hours and 564 miles to Highland Park.
"It did feel very lonely, and what these people are doing, it made me feel a lot less lonely," said Highland Park resident Elizabeth Sazdanoff, who struck up a conversation after she noticed the Tiny Truckster tooling down the street while she walked her dog.
She invited the visitors to her home so a friend and neighbor, Chris Block, could see the vehicle. (A spinal cord injury survivor paralyzed after a 2016 bicycle accident, Block is a horse rider and SCUBA diver who hopes someday to meet Cooper Roberts).
"I was really moved," Block said of Moore and his message.
"They stayed with us and talked with us for awhile," Sazdanoff said of the Trucksters.
"They spread comfort and kind words. These beautiful people show up with nothing but kind words and this delightful little car from an icon of a movie.
"When they drove away they said, 'I want to play a song for you,' and they blasted 'Lean on Me.' I walked down the sidewalk crying. I'm like, who does this?" Sazdanoff said.
Moore and his partner do. They visited with people on the street, at gas stations, grocery stores. They met with representatives of Highland Park government, police and fire departments.
"He came three days in a row to hit each of the shifts. It's very kind of him," said Fire Chief Joe Schrage, who also noted the "encouraging" Emerson poem.
Moore, who may be followed on Facebook at Tracking the Truckster, and reached at (865) 966-CARE, stressed that he wasn't acting alone.
"I'm speaking for the state of Tennessee; I'm not speaking for myself. I'm just messenger, a vessel, to do that," he said.
"On our end, being here in the Tennessee Truckster, the community of Highland Park that has opened their hearts and their arms to welcome us and embrace us during this time has been overwhelming. It affects my heart in a way that I will never forget.
"Our hearts are heavy and we're just trying to be here for everyone. We want the people in Highland Park to know that the people in Tennessee, nine hours away or farther, that we truly care. I guess that's why we're called the Volunteer State," Moore said. "When I leave Highland Park I can assure you this -- that part of my heart will stay here. And when I get back to Tennessee, Highland Park will stay in my heart forever."