The 44th annual Ernie Blankenship Memorial Radio-Telethon raised nearly $106,000 Wednesday night to support the Highland County Society for Children and Adults.
The total reversed a two-year trend of fewer contributions – last year’s total was just under $104,000 – leading Rocky Coss, the Highland County Common Pleas judge who leads Rotary’s telethon efforts, to express optimism that fundraising will continue to climb in the coming years.
Coss’ wife, Gayle, is the director of the society, and while a recent injury prevented her from being on hand Wednesday, the Cosses were in frequent contact by telephone throughout the evening.
The total represented both the Hillsboro and Greenfield totals for the event. The night’s largest contribution again came from the Cassner Foundation, with Richard Van Zant presenting a $15,000 check from the foundation. Coss said the foundation has been the society’s largest donor over the years.
This year’s event in Hillsboro was held at Merchants Bank, and individuals, along with business and organization leaders, showed up throughout the night to deliver checks and report pledges. Coss said the night’s total of $105,866 will likely grow, since more donations tend to arrive several days after the actual radio-telethon.
The radio-telethon represents the primary fundraising effort of the year for the society, which helps Highland County residents with medical bills and supplies. Contributions big and small from across the county and beyond continued to represent a substantial fundraising achievement for an organization that is entirely operated and funded on the local level.
Since 1973, the annual radio-telethon has raised about $3.5 million.
Several items, most of them sports-related, are auctioned during each year’s event. This year those items included a one-year membership to the YMCA, an autographed shirt and hat from Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, autographed baseballs from retired stars Cesar Geronimo, Bert Campaneris, Ron Oester and Rollie Fingers, an autographed photo of Pete Rose slugging his 4,191st hit, which tied Ty Cobb’s record, a photograph of the “Great Eight” starting lineup of the Big Red Machine, autographed by each of the players, and an autographed photo of Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer being doused with Gatorade. A flurry of bids for the various items came in just as the event was winding down.
For years, Ernie Blankenship hosted the annual telethon and served as fundraiser-in-chief throughout the year. The event was named in Blankenship’s honor in 2013, and after his passing it became a memorial in his honor starting in 2014. On Wednesday, Rita Blankenship, who was on hand with other family members, recalled her late husband’s dedication to the society and the telethon, noting they were “very dear to Ernie’s heart.”
This year’s poster child was Emily Davis, a third-grader at Peebles Elementary who lives with her grandfather, Doug Chaney, near Sinking Spring. Emily celebrated her 10th birthday on Friday, and asked for donations to the radio-telethon in lieu of birthday presents, ultimately netting several hundred dollars. She was on hand Wednesday with various family members.
Emily was born with Riley-Day syndrome, and her aunt, Pam Chaney, previously told The Times-Gazette that the little girl can’t take any food or drink orally, can’t feel pain or temperature change, has dry eyes and has to use eye drops every two hours when she’s awake, and has repeated occurrences of pneumonia. In fact, her aunt said, this was the first winter Davis has not had pneumonia.
On Wednesday, emcee duties were again handled by Rotarian and auctioneer Rick Williams and Herb Day of Buckeye Country 105.5.
The radio-telethon was broadcast live on the local Time Warner community access channel, and on WSRW 101.5 FM and WSRW AM 1590. In Greenfield, it was broadcast from the McClain High School Media Room on the Time Warner community access channel along with periodic broadcasts on WVNU FM 97.5. A live broadcast of the event was streamed at www.tech-t.com/telethon.
Checks can still be dropped off at any local bank or mailed to the society at P.O. Box 258, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133.
Check back Thursday at timesgazette.com or in Friday’s print edition of The Times-Gazette for more details and photos from Wednesday’s radio-telethon.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.