Luke Macke knows how to return a favor.
The 9-year-old had a wish — that money collected by his fourth-grade class at Liberty Ridge Elementary be donated to Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit that helps seriously ill children live out a favorite fantasy.
"It brings hope to kids," Luke said. "My brother got a wish."
His older brother Andrew was born with multiple birth defects, a condition known as Vater Association syndrome. In 2014, Make-A-Wish Minnesota granted Andrew's request for a backyard makeover, which included a new chimney fireplace, patio, sound system, TV and a columned, gazebo-like structure called a pergola.
Luke saw an opportunity to pay it forward when his class collected close to $1,000 in pennies as part of their annual Penny Wars. Each year, the kids vote on which charity the money will benefit. They watch videotaped statements from 12 of their classmates, two from each fourth-grade classroom.
Luke successfully lobbied a majority of his classmates to vote for Make-A-Wish.
Last Wednesday, he presented a check for $949.71 to Make-A-Wish Minnesota at Liberty Ridge. He read the transcript of his videotape statement to an assembly that included his classmates, teachers, Andrew and his mother, Holly.
In his statement, he noted that his brother had undergone more than 60 surgeries and that his parents had taken him "all over the place" for the operations. Andrew often is in pain, Luke said, but at least he now has his own backyard version of a man cave where he can relax and hang out with friends.
"The classes watch all of the videos and they vote for one overall winner," said Luke's teacher, Emily Hamer. "You'd think they'd have tendency to vote for kids in their own class. But Luke got a lot of votes from other classes."
Andrew, 16, posed for photos with his younger brother. A student at East Ridge High School, he said he hopes to study medicine in college.
"I was surprised that he thought to do that and really happy," he said, about Luke's decision to campaign for Make-A-Wish.
Stephanie Davis, a representative for Make-A-Wish Minnesota, answered questions from the kids. They grant about 300 wishes per year in Minnesota, she said. There are four types of wishes: kids either want to go somewhere special; meet someone they admire; be someone else, such as a policeman, fireman, princess or rockstar; or to have something that they've always wanted. Make-A-Wish foots the bill.
"We cover everything," she said.
Donations help, of course.
Holly Macke is understandably proud of Luke.
"He really inspired a lot of kids by how passionate he was about Make-A-Wish," she said. "He had to go around to all the classrooms. He wore Andrew's Make-A-Wish shirt. He took all the different newspaper articles. In his own words he told them what Make-A-Wish meant to him."
It obviously means a lot to their family, as well.
"You know, it's tough," she said, about having a child with a serious medical condition. "It's really by the grace of God that we've gotten this far. It's hard to see your children suffer and there's nothing that can really help with that."