By Kathy Mancil
When Mitch Gardiner and his six siblings were growing up, their father, a retired sergeant major in the U.S. Army who served in Korea and Vietnam, often said, "Many the hands, the lighter the load."
Gardiner is now the president of the Men's Auxiliary of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4493 in Candler. And though his father is no longer alive, Gardiner decided to heed his dad's words of wisdom when planning a benefit for other military families.
Members of the men's auxiliary played a major role in the success of their Blues, Butts and Rock-n-Roll event on March 3 at the post, he said. But the credit for raising $12,500 to help build a Fisher House in Gainesville, he added, is shared with many in the community.
A Fisher House is a "home away from home" where family members of veterans and other military personnel — active and retired — can stay for free while their loved ones receive medical care at major military and Veterans Affairs medical centers. Currently, there are 54 Fisher Houses worldwide. But there is not one at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, which is one of the busiest VA medical centers in the country.
Gardiner said when he learned some family members of wounded veterans were staying in their cars because they could not afford lodging near their loved ones, he knew the Men's Auxiliary at VFW Post 4493 should help the Gainesville Fisher House Foundation's $2.5 million fundraising effort.
"Supporting the Gainesville Fisher House is just a small way we can honor our nation's heroes who have given so much," he said.
Gardiner and Rodger Essary, the VFW post's men's auxiliary Jr. vice president, were thrilled with the outpouring of support for the day-long, family-friendly event.
Deluca Toyota and Lockheed Martin were the major sponsors. Numerous other local businesses also made contributions and donated items for live auctions and raffles. Just a few were Ocala Harley-Davidson, Jerry's Pawn and Gun and Ocala Art and Frame.
Five rock bands volunteered to play live music throughout the day. Jumping 4 Joy donated the use of a bounce house and Warner's Barrel Train Rides also offered kids' activities.
Admission was free, but pulled-pork sandwich meals and a wide variety of beverages were available for purchase. More than 300 meals were served by volunteers, Gardiner noted.
"Everybody came together to make it a big success," said Essary, who served as auctioneer.
He said the best aspect of the event was having three "wounded warriors" among the 400-plus people in attendance. "Their presence truly gave it a ‘This-is-what-it's-for' atmosphere," said Essary.
Gainesville Fisher House director Patti Fabiani and her husband, Rick Fabiani, also attended.
Essary said the Candler Men's Auxiliary plans to host the event again next year to continue to support the Gainesville Fisher House. Groundbreaking for the facility is expected to begin within a few months. For more information, visit www.gainesvillefisherhouse.org.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski