By: Bill O’Connell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
It looked like a scene out of the 1953 Marlon Brando outlaw biker movie classic “The Wild One” that had motorcycle gangs rumbling through the streets of a small town creating mayhem, wreaking havoc and striking fear into the hearts of the local citizenry.
This gang of wild ones, however, numbering nearly two-hundred and riding a mix of Harleys, Hondas, Indians and Yamahas were on a mission of mercy as they thundered down Swanton’s Main Street with a police escort on their way to the American Legion in Napoleon as part of an effort to raise money for a very worthy cause.
It was the Swanton American Legion’s Second Annual Poker Run for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with the primary goal of raising enough money to fund a service dog, which can cost as much as $25,000, for a military veteran through The Battle Buddy Foundation (TBBF).
On hand to help promote the fundraiser was TBBF co-founder Kenny Bass, a former Marine who was severely wounded in Iraq and suffered from life-threatening PTSD until a service dog put him on a path to recovery. With him was TBBF Executive Director Chrissy Faulkner and, of course, his service dog, Atlas.
“The turnout is incredible,” exclaimed Ms. Faulkner as she surveyed the packed house of the Swanton Legion’s banquet hall. “It’s amazing what the organizers have been able to put together from a town of this size.”
The effort, spearheaded by Debra Miniaci, also impressed Sergeant Bass. “To see this event grow to this size in just its second year is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a true testament to the American spirit.”
As an added attraction and in keeping with the overall military theme, Ms. Miniaci and the legion brought in recent high school graduate Jacob Feazel of Peru, Indiana and his remarkable work of art, the American flag created with 4466 painted toy soldiers. “It took me 56 hours over 11 days to complete it,” said the now college freshman who is studying Intermediate Art Technology at the University of Indiana at Kokomo. The flag, created for a senior art project this past February, was posted on Facebook and immediately went viral. Jacob has had many offers to purchase his patriotic masterpiece but is not selling for now.
The Poker Run concluded at the Swanton Legion with a dinner, raffles, auctions, and music and, while the final numbers are still being tabulated, the early indication is enough money was raised to realize the goal of acquiring a service dog for some well-deserving military veteran. Going forward, the Legion plans to take on this cause with another fundraiser in 2017.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at