By Peter Vankevich
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Retired firefighter John Rudis made a special effort to support his firefighting brethren by attending Saturday night’s Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department’s annual Firemen’s Ball. He was one of several off-island firefighters who attended; some could be identified by their own fire company T-shirts.
While visiting the Variety Store during a recent visit, he could smell the charred remains of the house fire behind the store on April 6 and went out to take a look.
“I couldn’t believe the stop (containment) these guys put on, amazing,” he said about the Ocracoke company while enjoying his barbecue meal. “You don’t see this often, especially in 40 mph winds. I was so impressed I decided to come back this weekend to show my support for the firefighters.”
Rudis worked 32 years for the Chesapeake Fire Department that included technical rescue and on the FEMA team.
Another supporter was Mark Gamiel. He is a captain with the
Roanoke Volunteer Fire Department in Manteo. He started as a firefighter in 1984 and is a past chief.
“I love firefighting and helping my community, so coming down to Ocracoke to help this department is an awesome thing for me, and I enjoy it every year when I come down,” he said.
Other non-fighters, who were the vast majority of those attending, had lots of praise. Jamie Canady from Hempstead, N.C., has attended about seven of these important fundraisers. She has been coming to Ocracoke for 23 years.
“The Firemen’s Ball is a great opportunity to give back to the community,” she said while taking a break from the silent auction bidding. “They (the firefighters) do a great thing for the community and we like giving support because we like coming here.”
Walking out with several items they won from the auction, Keith and Crystal Hardt of (Little) Washington are Ball sponsors with his business Pungo Engineering Services and new homeowners in Jackson Circle. “We are now part-time residents and feel it is important to support the Firemen’s Ball and the Fire Association,” he said.
The evening party began with a silent auction followed by a live auction, led by Philip Howard, which is a highlight of the event.
Of the 70 items on the auction list, the most heavily bid-on items were three cakes made by Ruth Toth, retired owner of the erstwhile Cafe Atlantic, which garnered a total of $2,500.
Marian Keech of Belhaven and Ocracoke led the bidding war between her and Larry Ihle to $1,150 each for Toth’s chocolate and fig cakes. Ihle and his wife, Stephanie, organize the event each year. Keech selected the fig cake and Ihle the chocolate.
“Nobody bakes a fig cake better than Miss Ruth,” Keech said. “I buy it every year and Larry and I go at it every year.”
Keech said her high bidding is all for a good cause.
“There’s no better cause than the fire company,” she said. “They work 365 days a year to keep us safe. The least I can do is support them one day a year.”
Reggie and Kim O’Neal nabbed Toth’s hummingbird cake for $200.
Toth said on Sunday that it’s her pleasure to bake the highly prized cakes tor the OVFD fundraiser (Her fig cake won last suumer’s Fig Cake bake-off) and she’s pleased her cakes raise a nice sum.
“I’ll do anything to encourage that,” she said about the competitive bidding. “I appreciate the dedication. I have nothing but respect for those men and women willing to serve.”
Stephanie Ihle said Sunday that more than $59,000 was brought in by the live auction and event sponsors. Meal revenue and donations from the door and bar still have to be tallied.
“It was another great year,” she said.
Meister of the Grill-Zilla barbeque cooker, William Roberson, cooked close to 800 lbs. of Boston Butts for chopped the BBQ and 200 racks of ribs all doused in about eight gallons of sauce.
Live music by the Ocracoke Rockers and the Dune Dogs capped off the evening.
Point of disclosure: Peter Vankevich serves as an Ocracoke volunteer firefighter. Connie Leinbach contributed to this article.