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Volunteers secretly restore 1969 Cougar

DUNDEE—Richard Axtell had no idea what was going on when he pulled into the Dundee bus garage parking lot, and found it full of people and classic cars, Sunday, June 27.
Cliff Perry, mechanic, said Axtell was told there would be a benefit for his wife Helen, a Dundee school employee who has cancer.  However, as everyone there knew, it was really to present Axtell with his 1969 Cougar restored to its former glory and given a nice, new paint job.  Included in the crowd of 50 were many of the people who had worked on the car.
When the Axtells arrived at the bus garage, the crowd yelled "Mister bus driver, move that bus!"  One of the school buses was driven out of the way to reveal the restored Cougar to a very surprised Axtell.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to me in my entire life," said Axtell, after getting in the car and starting it up.  "I never expected any of this."
Even Helen knew about the ruse, and had been keeping the secret the two weeks the car was being worked on.  Perry kept the car at his house, and every evening people came over and worked on the car.  Perry explained businesses from Penn Yan to Elmira donated parts or worked on different sections of the car to get it ready for Sunday.  Perry said work like this would normally take six months with a regular crew of people.
"Not one business turned us down," he said, adding places were calling him to offer help.
Yet somehow, Axtell never knew this was going on.  His wife explained his daughter lives next door to Perry in Watkins Glen.  She said they went to visit her once and she feared Axtell might see what was happening to the vehicle, but it remained a secret.
"It was hard to keep it a secret.  It wasn't easy," she said.
Axtell thought Perry was just doing some work on the wiring.  Axtell and Perry have known each other for years, so it was a plausible excuse.  Perry explained he was able to get all the information out of Axtell about what he wanted done to the car, without him knowing.  Including what color to paint it.  As a mechanic, Perry has restored many cars over the years.

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