Photos by Bryan Rinnert
The days leading up to Harvest for Hospice are a whirlwind for Dave Potts and Jeff Ross. They’ve spent almost a year planning the Community Hospice benefit in Dover and now they are doing a tasty test run of the filet mignon that will be served that night.
“We’ll be cooking more than 100 filets and I’ve never done that before. I want to make sure we don’t look like a buffoon,” said Ross, a retired UPS worker.
As the air fills with the savory smell of sizzling steaks, the two are chatty when describing the upcoming benefit but become quiet when asked if they became friends through their fundraising efforts with Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau. They look at each other and with a slight clearing of his throat, Potts describes his friendship with Ross, which started in late spring 2013 when they worked together on Farm Bureau’s first hospice fundraiser. A few months later, Potts got a staph infection after a simple surgery, suffered extensive medical complications and was revived twice on the operating table.
“I’d only met Jeff for two days (at the fundraiser), and he came every day to the nursing home to check on me. We’ve been friends ever since,” said Potts, a Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau member who is an archery product designer in New Philadelphia.
On the day of the community Hospice benefit, volunteers start arriving early in the morning to set up for the farm-to-plate event at Rivercrest Farm. Tucked away in the rolling hills of Dover, the 120-acre farm is a beautiful, highly desired spot to hold weddings and special events. The upper section of the century old barn is decked out with about a dozen chandeliers, and the grainery has been converted into bathrooms. The spotless kitchen was once a tool room full of coffee cans brimming with nuts and bolts or grease used for machinery.
“The room stunk so bad of boy stuff,” laughed Deanna Vickery, who grew up visiting her grandparents’ farm on the weekends. “But the farm was always paradise for us kids. Every summer my grandparents would let us each pick a week, and we would get to stay here and be an only child. It was the perfect little childhood. It warped me enough that when they passed away, we bought the farm and started cleaning it up.”
It didn’t take long before Vickery and her recently retired attorney husband discovered owning a farm with little cropland was not a great retirement plan. Vickery changed her vision of converting the barn into her childhood dream home to a wedding venue.
“If not for the weddings, we wouldn’t be able to keep the farm,” she said. “The day-to-day expenses for running the farm was sucking our IRA dry. Now I get to throw a party every week. It’s really magical.”
As guests start to arrive to the sold-out event, Ross is outside chopping cherry wood for the fire that will give the meat its lush flavor, and Potts is greeting attendees. He grins widely when a guest loudly exclaims “Oh my goodness! Look at those filets.” Inside the barn, guests check out the silent and live auction items that range from a whole processed hog to Ohio State University basketball tickets to a one-hour paraplane ride with Potts. Others gather on the balcony and sip their wine as they watch the Scottish Highland cattle, horses, alpacas and donkeys roam the hilly countryside.
With the guests seated, Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau President Jim Rowe shares how important hospice has been for his family and so many in Carroll, Stark and Tuscarawas counties. He thanks the dozens of event volunteers and supporters who have spent many hours and dollars to make the evening possible.
“We’ve had enough sponsorship that every dollar you give tonight is a direct donation to Community Hospice,” Rowe declares as the crowd applauds.
Back in the kitchen, it’s a symphony of movement as volunteers glide in and out with plates piled high with filets, chicken, ribs and vegetables. The guests marvel at the chicken prepared by Shy Cellars Chef Sherry Schie, who appeared on the Food Network with celebrity Chef Guy Fieri in “Guy’s Grocery Games.”
As guests dig into their meals, Vickery’s daughter, Taylor, is oblivious to the formal event above her. She’s in the lower part of the barn, trimming a horse’s mane. The farm work can’t be put off simply because there’s an event going on at the same time. That’s evident later in the evening when her mom pushes away from the table and hurriedly excuses herself to guests. The puppies have gotten out and she needs to help round them up.
“You never get a hot meal when you’re a farmer,” she said good naturedly as she returned to a cold plate of food.
As the sun starts to slide behind the hills, guests pile into their cars laden with wine bottles and auction items they purchased along with memories of a beautiful benefit. The cleanup crew swings into action, ready to end a long, but fulfilling day.
In the end, the fundraiser did much more than raise $26,000 for Community Hospice. A “friendraiser” is how one volunteer called it.
“There are some Farm Bureau members I didn’t really know and got to know really well after working on these events,” said Rowe, a dairy farmer. “An event like this gets a lot of people together and can create a lifetime of friendships.”
Published in the January/February 2016 issue of Our Ohio.
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