The first Turtle Johnson Poker Run to benefit the elevation and restoration of Historic First Baptist Church at 421 S. First St. topped all expectations, said Norbert Gildehaus, who co-chairs the restoration committee with Bob Masson.
“When we saw the number of people registering and the orders for T-shirts, we knew it was going to be pretty good,” Gildehaus said. “But it went way beyond what we expected.”
The event was held Saturday, June 1, and raised more than $9,000. It was held as a memorial to the late Danny “Turtle” Johnson, who grew up across the street from the historic church and had served as the volunteer building and groundskeeper throughout his life.
A dozen members of the Johnson family joined the church restoration committee to organize the poker run. More than 200 motorcycles and other vehicles made the run through Pacific, Catawissa, Dittmer and St. Clair to pick up cards for their poker hands. More than 300 poker hands were handed out.
Stops were made at Trixie’s in Catawissa, Holeshots in Dittmer, and Ruffneck Resistance in St. Clair. The event started and ended at the Legion.
Mike Whalen, who held the high poker hand with a king high spade flush, donated his winnings back to the event.
Participants returned to the Pacific American Legion Post at 3 p.m. for an evening of celebration. The Little Blue Pill band provided music in the Legion Pavilion into the evening hours.
Blind auction items lined the perimeter of the Legion pavilion. In a live auction, the committee offered three guns and a 50-inch TV.
The American Legion donated the use of all its facilities for the benefit.
Inside the Legion kitchen, Loretta Hutcherson, Liz Jackson, Betty Ivy, Winkie Reid and Tammy Yokley served more than 220 barbecue sandwiches and meals. Hazel’s Back Porch Barbecue in Washington barbecued the chicken and pork steaks.
Some 300 Turtle Run T-shirts commemorating the event were sold, with paid ads on the back of 27 businesses and individuals.
At the end of the event, organizers presented a check for $9,265 to the church restoration project.
Gildehaus described the turnout of the event as the culmination of the entire effort to save the church.
“This whole thing has been a sharing and community coming together since it started,” he said. “We had a lot of help.”
One group of volunteers took time from planning their own event to help with the church benefit.
“People surprise you,” Gildehaus said. “They’re going to do Fred Ride at the Union Knights of Columbus Aug. 17 to benefit Camp Hope for wounded veterans. We hope all of our workers turn out to help with that event.”
The Turtle Run organizers included Canaan and Rylan Gildehaus, Norbert Gildehaus, Debbie Casey, Julie Gildehaus, Jeff Beinecke and Chris Troesser, Kelly Cooksey, Melissa Cooksey, Cheryl Walters, Cindy Kimbrell, Abraham Krausch, Sylvia Bryant, Leah Clarke, Toby Desloe, Jesse Turnbull, Maryann Hammer and Liz and Melvin Jackson.