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Defiance, Fulton, Henry and Williams county Farm Bureaus have been deeply involved in a project with Sauder Village to erect an Ohio Farm Bureau office of the 1920s as part of Sauder Village’s 1920s Main Street walk through time experience. The opportunity to share what the Ohio Farm Bureau organization did over 100 years ago and what it continues to do today is the ultimate goal of this project that has ongoing benefits. Sauder Village Historic Museum in Archbold, Ohio is visited by people from all over the world.
A price of $60,000 included creating an Ohio Farm Bureau office that replicates the past from wall to wall and ceiling to floor. It includes original furniture, pictures, file cabinets, desks, feed bags, a typewriter, magazines from the 1920s era and more. In-depth research was done on what this office looked like in the 1920s by village historians. They found artifacts kept in storage at the Ohio Farm Bureau and Nationwide offices in Columbus, in the Fulton County office in Pettisville, and given by individual Farm Bureau members throughout Ohio who were proud to help the Ohio Farm Bureau story to live on.
However, raising this amount of money was a challenge for the Fulton County Farm Bureau, but the county board members felt an opportunity like this was not going to come along again where Ohio Farm Bureau could get this kind of continual positive exposure in a place that is visited by hundreds of thousands of people annually. They formed a committee and began the initial planning, which included contacting the Ohio Farm Bureau board of trustees, other Ohio county Farm Bureaus, and the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation leaders. This brought about setting up an Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation account for donations to the Sauder Village OFBF Office project. An initial incentive was offered by the Ohio Farm Bureau executive office to match the first $15,000 raised. This was soon accomplished through word of mouth and emails informing the members and other Ohio Farm Bureau counties about the project and the need for funds. The COVID-19 pandemic then brought big and halting challenges to fundraising events that were initially planned. The funds, however, continued to trickle in from members being informed through the county Farm Bureau newsletters, website and Facebook page notices which included 1920s Main Street Ohio Farm Bureau office construction updates and a donation form which were sent each quarter throughout the pandemic.
Final fundraising push
In early October 2021, it was decided that a fundraising event was needed to remind and give members a chance to contribute in person and hopefully get closer to completing the funding required. A local singing group, Girl Named Tom, from Pettisville, was beginning to receive national attention as contestants on the television show, “The Voice.” The group was contacted and informed of our fundraising efforts. To our fundraising committee’s delight, they agreed to be our featured entertainment. The event was planned for Jan. 27, 2022 at the Sauder Village 1920s Main Street Theater. The Girl Named Tom group’s father, Chris Liechty was a retired manager of Kenn-Feld Group who is a Farm Bureau member, so Kenn-Feld offered to exclusively sponsor the group for our event!
As planning progressed, so did the popularity of the Girl Named Tom group as they continued to advance each week on “The Voice” and several of their songs reached iTunes top 10 hits! In November 2021 invitations were sent out to the local four-county Farm Bureau board members, faithful volunteers and supporters to give them the first opportunity to be part of this unique event which was limited to 170 at $100 per seat. It was important to first invite those members who had spent countless hours volunteering at county fairs and events, helping with newsletter mailings, building displays, delivering ag books, working membership, serving on committees and as trustees of the county Farm Bureaus.
The fundraising event was sold out by the time Girl Named Tom became winners of The Voice, Season 21 in December 2021. The news of this event brought inquiries to the county office asking how one could join Farm Bureau to be part of events like this and even become a volunteer!
The excitement kept building as it was realized through this exposure that more donations to our project were coming in and that this one event might secure all of the funds needed for the project. A silent auction was set up to be part of the evening concert event. There were 17 items donated of over $100 value each, which ranged from several ribeye steaks, famous American painter portraits, Columbus Blue Jackets hockey tickets from Nationwide, autographed Girl Named Tom 2’ x 3’ posters, a large John Deere toy tractor and combine, a family pack of Sauder Village tickets and a Sauder Heritage Inn one-night stay package which included dinner and doughnuts, among others.
A heartbreak along the way
A reality of life is that setbacks can occur. Chris Liechty, the father of the sibling group Girl Named Tom, had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. His health was declining more rapidly in January and he passed away in the early morning hours on the day of the fundraising event, Jan. 27. This was heartbreaking news for his family, our community and many across the country who had grown to love Girl Named Tom. The group was so gracious and very willing to proceed with the event that was then rescheduled for Feb. 17. In gratefulness of current technology (unlike the 1920s era), emails, texts and calls were quickly made to inform event guests of the postponement. The venue, sound and light technician, videographer, photographer and other volunteers were also secured again for the Feb. 17 date.
As Feb. 17 approached the weather forecast of rain, ice, sleet and snow became a major concern for the safety of travel for the guests. Rescheduling again was discussed with the Girl Named Tom group and the venue hosts at Sauder Village, but with the group’s popularity packing their schedule and the venue’s limited availability, it was decided to go ahead with the event as planned. Extra people were appointed to shovel snow and transport guests with a 15-passenger van from the main parking lot to the theater. Guests also were offered a Sauder Village discount if they wanted to stay the night at the Sauder Heritage Inn next door. The venue was prepared again by setting up chairs and adding numbers to the seats and letters to the rows according to the seating chart prepared. Silent auction items were also set up again for display with corresponding bidding sheets in place.
The Girl Named Tom group and their mom and grandma arrived early on the day of the concert. They and the sound and light technician were given delicious meals from the Sauder Village Barn Restaurant since they arrived early for testing purposes. The group was happy to oblige us with a photo session at the 1920s Farm Bureau office before the concert guests arrived. They were eager to learn more about the Farm Bureau history and were excited to be asked to help out with our fundraiser.
After everyone arrived and had a chance to browse the Silent Auction, Roy Norman, organization director for Defiance, Fulton, Henry and Williams counties began with introductions and thank yous to dignitaries from Sauder Village, Kenn-Feld Group, Nationwide, special donors and organizers who helped make it all possible. After saying a prayer, he asked for a hometown welcome for the Girl Named Tom group and they were greeted with a standing ovation.
The group, made up of Caleb, Joshua and Bekah Liechty had a grand performance of the songs that won them fame on “The Voice” and also some of their amazing original songs. There was an intermission where people could continue to bid on the silent auction items and then the winners were announced at the end of the concert. The concert was described as “amazing”, “awesome”, “fantastic” and “so fun.” Popcorn and soft drinks were offered and someone said this made it seem like you were at home with the group listening to them talk and sing. At the very end after much applause, a grand encore was presented by the group as they sang a tune arranged by their late father, for Psalm 23. A standing ovation and flowers were given to the group in appreciation for sharing their amazing talents.
The silent auction brought in over $2200 and combined with other proceeds, Farm Bureau was able to reach the necessary commitment to complete the funding for the 1920s Ohio Farm Bureau office project at Sauder Village. The excess funds were donated to the music department at Pettisville High School (which was where the Girl Named Tom group went to high school) and also to the Northwest Ohio Grain Safety Training Center, which is a new facility being built to provide grain elevator professionals, firefighters, and other first responders with training on grain bin entrapment rescues as well as fire and explosion training.
This event also brought an enormous amount of recognition to our county Farm Bureau through the publicity the concert has received since the event. The event was mentioned in local television, newspapers, radio news, and also showcased in social media. For example, the county Facebook page receives about 200 views on each of our posts, but this event has gotten over 16,000 views to date. We have membership inquiries as well as people asking about volunteering. People have also been interested in learning about the history of the Ohio Farm Bureau and visiting the 1920’s office to see and learn more about its origin.
Despite all of its setbacks, the event surpassed all of the goals and expectations laid out for success. It was our county Farm Bureau’s most challenging fundraiser, but also the most rewarding as it had fantastic results.
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