By Doug Lowe
GUNNISON—The sheer size of the crowd at last Saturday night’s fundraiser, the benefit dinner and auction for Jackson “Jacko” Hill, was impressive: maybe so large it even surprised the volunteers, who worked on arranging all kinds of donated items for the auctions, drawings and games.
Estimates of total attendance exceeded 1,000. When asked for his estimate, Dan Dalley, of Lazy D Pawn, who chaired a committee of some 100 volunteers, said “They sold 750 dinner tickets. But, we know plenty of folks came to be part of the fundraiser, and skipped the dinner.”
Before the event’s 6 p.m. start time, the parking lot of Gunnison Elementary was already so full that folks were double parking. Others parked a block away.
Within minutes of opening, the large multi-purpose room that serves as the school’s cafeteria, gym and assembly hall was filled almost beyond capacity; nearly all the spaces at the long banquet tables were occupied by families having dinner.
Towards the front of the hall, the rows of folding chairs, set up between the tables and the stage, were mostly full of people. And, many of them were balancing paper plates, filled with pulled pork and baked beans, on their laps in the absence of a table.
Likewise, out in the nearby corridor of the school, people were seated on the carpeted floor, balancing plates of food on their laps.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of new arrivals kept entering the large hall and lining up along the east wall waiting their turn at the kitchen serving windows, where volunteers were dishing out dinners as quickly as they could.
Thru it all, up on the stage at the front of the hall, master of ceremonies Sean Nielson, and auctioneers Dan Dalley and Wade Anderson, took turns at the microphone and kept the crowd engaged with bidding on all kinds of wonderful donated treasures.
A steady stream of people, of all ages, kept moving along the periphery of the hall because most of the space on the room’s long east and west walls were filled with tables where volunteers accepted money or tickets from those wanting at least one chance—more than one—at winning one of the donated items.
Those donated items, coming in all sizes and price ranges, included almost everything imaginable: woodwork creations like a kayak and a paddle board; oil painting, sculptures, along with other art works, handicraft creations; multiple toys; a variety of hand guns and long guns; and, much more.
In most cases laying down a few raffle tickets, or a cash donation of $5, $10 or $15, bought at least one chance to win the desired prize.
The sounds of the auctioneers, combined with scores of conversations among the audience and the people lined up around the hall, created a loud hum that was occasionally punctuated as bidding reached a crescendo.
A big highlight of the evening’s activities was when a wireless microphone got carried to the Hill family’s table, so that Jacko, who was sitting there, happily smiling in his wheel chair, could say a few words.
Another, different type of highlight involved the heightening tension felt throughout the hall as the field of finalists, who had a good chance of winning the much-sought-after AR-15 rife, was progressively narrowed down until only two potential winners were left standing, before the rifle was finally awarded.
Interspersed with all the prize drawings, were lively auctions during which all kinds of valuable items, contributed by donors from as far away as Salt Lake City, went to the highest bidder in raising money for Jacko’s medical expenses.
In one case, a total of $2,000 was sufficient to provide one happy bidder with complete use of a 10,000 square foot holiday retreat house in the Fairview area that would sleep 50 people. In another case, a winner bid almost $700 for a pearl ring in a 12-carat gold setting donated by Jonathan’s Jewelry in Ephraim.
After the successful event, when asked about his role as the primary organizer, Dalley took none of the credit, simply saying “It was Trent Hallady who lit the match that got a hundred or more of us all fired up.” When pressed for more details, all Dalley would say was, “Seeing our small community’s big response made me feel proud and grateful to live in such a wonderful place.”