Group hits six digits in donation drive for local vets
By Brandi Makuski
When Kevin Ruder first decided in 2014 to create a local Guns N’ Hoses fundraiser to benefit area veterans, he had no idea how large it would become just three years later.
“It’s really become something else, a whole new animal,” Ruder said on Aug. 16. “It’s kind of grown legs and taken on a life of its own, it’s great to see so many in the area support our veterans.”
Aug. 27 marks the third annual fundraising event, which will include food and beverages, local emergency vehicles on display, an ceremonial airplane flyover, as well as kids games by the Central Wisconsin Children Museum.
Local veteran groups will also be on hand — a way to reach out to local vets and their families to ensure their needs are being met.
But the main event will take place on the ball diamond at Leo “Cub” Mancheski Field in Bukolt Park: a charity softball game between local firefighters and law enforcement, which each year has been dominated by the ‘Hoses’ team (firefighters).
“After last year’s upset, the ‘Guns’ team is out for redemption and has assembled a new team of local law enforcers including Stevens Point police, Plover police and Portage County deputies,” said SPPD Assistant Chief Tony Babl.
Babl is a part of the Guns N’ Hoses planning committee, along with several other local law enforcement officers, various firefighters, former police chief and co-founder Ruder, Portage Co. Veterans Service Officer Mike Clements and Traci Tauferner, who works in sports medicine at Ministry Medical.
In the first year of the fundraiser, Ruder and his cohorts raised more than $40,000. By the second year, that total rose to $73,000.
The group announced it hit the six-digit mark for total donations on Aug. 16, with more than $30,000 in donations already taken in during 2016 from local residents, businesses and other organizations.
The money raised goes to a number of local veteran organizations. There’s the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, a Wausau-based organization which flies veterans free of charge to Washington, D.C. for a day of sightseeing at war memorials built in their honor. The NFHF flies its “missions” four times annually from the Central Wisconsin Airport, having already flown thousands of veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam wars who live in Portage and surrounding counties.
There’s the Portage Co. Veterans Relief Fund, a county-run program which assists local veterans with emergency housing needs, medical costs and other unexpected expenses.
Then, there’s Ageless Aviation Dreams Fly-In, which flies veterans over Stevens Point on a sightseeing tour, also for free, complete with military honors at the Stevens Point Airport/Mattson Field.
Hunting clubs in Junction City and Almond will also receive some of the funds, as both host disabled veteran groups during hunting season. In relation to those groups, local residents Bob and Mary Berard donated $12,000 to purchase a new all-terrain electric wheelchair known as a “track-chair” for use by veterans in local parks. Ray and Camille Bukowski of Plover paid more than $2,000, in memory of their late son, Keith, for the chair’s trailer.
But Ruder, and Tauferner, are quick to point out the list of donations is quite long.
“There’s [sic] so many donations, and so many great people in this community,” said Tauferner in June, when the group took receipt of a $1,000 donation from the Stevens Point Junior Women’s Club. “It sort of makes you feel all warm inside to see the outpouring of support.”
- The Guns N’ Hoses softball game will take place at Leo “Cub” Mancheski Field in Bukolt Park, 100 Bukolt Ave. Admission and parking are free. The Bukolt Park Boat Landing will be closed on Aug. 27 for accommodate the event.
- Gates open for the event at 9 AM. Opening ceremonies begin at 10:30 AM, and include a ceremonial first pitch by local veterans and the National Anthem.
- The Simcakoski Family — whose son, Marine Corps veteran Jason died in 2013 after being prescribed a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs at the VA hospital in Tomah, will act as honorary captains of the game, and will oversee the game-opening coin flip.
“I’ve got a strategy…we’re going to let you guys smoke us two years in a row, then use that to convince the city to finally give us a gym.”
-Police Chief Marty Skibba to Assistant Fire Chief Joe Gemza, along the first base line of the 2015 Guns N’ Hoses charity softball game.
“We’ve already got a spot for the trophy — we’ll just put it back where it was.”
-Fire Chief Bob Finn to local law enforcement during a Guns N’ Hoses planning committee meeting on Aug. 17.