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Out of the park

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Out of the park

Fundraiser for Geoff Pfeiffer exceeds expectations to the tune of $45K-plus

Judy Schrag didn’t know it at the time, but shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday night, a pan of her famous Wiener Winks was the opening item at a hotly-contested auction as part of the fundraiser in support of Geoff Pfeiffer, a 1999 Freeman High School graduate battling brain cancer. 

Schrag didn’t know it, because she wasn’t there yet.

Instead, while Schrag was wrapping up a class reunion she had organized, her daughter, Heidi, made the on-the-spot donation on her mother’s behalf, knowing full well that the hot dogs-wrapped-in-homemade-dough that were a staple of Freeman Public school lunches when Schrag was a cook there were always a hit among the students.

It was a good call.

With a host of those students-turned-adults on hand, the bid for the pan of Wiener Winks was as competitive as it was entertaining, and they ended up selling for $675.

Judy got word when she arrived.

“I walked in and Russ Becker and Ted Pidde said, ‘You have no idea … your Wiener Winks just sold for $675,’” she said later. “I said, ‘For 6 dollars and 75 cents?’

“I couldn’t believe it,” Schrag continued. “It was unbelievable — and so touching.”

There may be no better words than “unbelievable” and “touching” to describe the Oct. 14 fundraiser at the old fire station organized by those associated with Freeman Black Sox baseball, which Pfeiffer was a part of until he received his diagnosis five years ago. 

But Garrett Pfeiffer, Geoffrey’s younger brother, does his best to summarize the fundraiser that generated more than $45,000 for the Pfeiffer family.

“I’ll never be part of anything like that ever again, and I think I speak for my entire family when I say that,” said Pfeiffer, who turns 34 next month. “Everything we predicted — how much food we needed and how many people would show up — was blown out of the water.

“There is a lot of good in Freeman, South Dakota.”

“Many hearts and hands made the event a roaring success,” said Emily Hofer, one of the driving forces behind the fundraiser that was put together largely by those affiliated with Freeman baseball, which the Pfeiffer family has long been associated with. “The generosity of everyone who sponsored part of the day, sent donations and attended the event exceeded our expectations.”

Doctors discovered a brain tumor in Geoff Pfeiffer, now 36, five years ago, but were able to successfully remove most of. Radiation helped it remain small until January of this year, when a new, more aggressive tumor called glioblastoma started growing. That resulted in treatments at the Mayo Clinic.

Garrett, who noted Geoff was at the fundraiser for a little while but had to leave because he was not feeling well, says his brother’s condition is not good.

“He doesn’t have much time,” he said. “Part of me thinks he’s been hanging on (for the fundraiser).”

Planning, turnout 

Saturday’s event was held with support from Hootz and included a dart tournament, meal, three-night giveaway to Terry Peak Chalets, as well as the silent and live auction.  

Hofer, who was the winner of those Wiener Winks (which she calls “a bargain at any price”), said she and others planned the event in about a month’s time.

“I put out one call for donations on Facebook, and from that all these great items started showing up in my office,” said Hofer, who is actively involved in the Freeman Baseball Association and whose bank, Merchants State Bank, is a major sponsor. “It looked like I had a mid-life crisis and tried to buy everything that Amazon.com had to offer.” 

When it was all said and done, people had donated more than 120 live and silent auction items, and assigned more than 250 bid numbers.

But Hofer’s call for silent auction items revealed something else, too.

“For the last two weeks leading up to the event, I have had a steady stream of people in and out of my office to drop off auction items, buy raffle tickets or just to drop off a donation,” she said. “Almost every one of those interactions was a 20- to 30-minute visit. People my age came in and related stories of fun times with Geoff playing baseball, growing up and going to school together and playing in dart league. Then there were people a little older, people in my parents’ generation and older, that had stories of (Geoffrey’s dad) Wiz (Gary) teaching and coaching them or their children in high school. 

“It is crystal clear to me what a great impact Geoff, Gary and the Pfeiffer family have had for so many people that have called Freeman home at one time or another,” she said.

It was clearly that support that resulted in the buzz surrounding the event in the weeks leading up to it, and then the turnout on Saturday. Hofer estimated between 300 and 400 people showed up; four briskets, two sheeps-worth of chislic, roughly 70 lbs. of pork loin and just under eight gallons of ice cream were served.

But beyond the scale of the event physically and monetarily, the fundraiser proved to be a success because of the homecoming-vibe that accompanied it. Dozens of people who know or have known the Pfeiffer family showed up, even coming from a distance in support.

Al Haar, who played baseball with both Geoff and Garrett and today lives in Windsor, Colo., with his wife, Karli, and their 2-year-old son, Staley, said choosing to come back in support of the Pfeiffers was an easy decision, and seeing the turnout was heartening.

“It was awesome seeing the whole town get together for the Pfeiffer family,” he said. “It makes you proud to come from such a great community. Now that I’ve moved to Colorado, you realize that all these friends you grew up with in Freeman aren’t just friends, they are family. I think everyone felt that way on Saturday night.”

Impact

The buzz surrounding the Pfeiffer fundraiser continues this week, and will no doubt last a long time given the emotional element of the event and the “exceeded expectations” that resulted. A Card of Thanks from the family printed on page 4B says “there is no ‘thank you’ in the English language big enough to express the gratitude we feel,” and says the response “felt like an enormous hug.”  

Of course, the $45,000-plus raised is a staggering number and certainly appreciated.

“My mom and dad and I were trying to figure out the next best step financially and I told them that, if we are lucky, we will raise maybe $5,000 or $10,000, and have that to help,” Garrett said. “So you know how blown away we were.”

But Garrett said it was never about the money.

“It was more of a chance for people to help and a gathering of support and community,” he said. 

And then there’s this, from Geoffrey and Garrett’s older sister, Camille Clifford, 46, who lives in Maple Grove, Minn., with her husband, Tim, and sons TJ and Brandon.

Camille had posted it on the Facebook fundraiser event page and granted the Courier permission to use it here. It is the perfect postscript.

“One of Geoffrey’s caregivers at Mayo began his recap of his first consult with Geoffrey with the words, ‘Geoffrey is a lovely young man.’” Camille wrote. “After having a chance to reflect on an amazing weekend of incredible support, that sentence has grown longer in my mind. Geoffrey is a lovely young man, who is blessed to be surrounded by a vast extended community of lovely men and women with generous hearts, deep love and compassionate souls. I can’t imagine an adequate way to thank all of you who planned, sponsored, donated, and worked to put this event together, as well as the amazing mass of people who came and shared the goodness of their hearts with my brother and family. Your prayers and support mean so much.”