The 2019 Ocracoke Volunteer Firemen’s Ball at the Berkley Barn sports a record crowd, raising a record amount for the fire company. MC and auctioneer Bill Cole covers the ground rules. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach

The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department’s 14th Annual Firemen’s Ball May 25 was one for the record books as the total amount raised grossed more than $100,000 for the first time.

“We were flabbergasted,” Stephanie Ihle said a few days after the event, although the official amount to accrue to the fire company after event expenses is still to be determined.  She and her husband, Larry, organize the event. 

The ball had a new venue, the Berkley Barn, which is a new addition last year to the gathering spots available on Ocracoke.  The campus-style location behind the Berkley Manor permitted more than double the typical number of attendees to spread out on picnic tables to enjoy their barbecue meal and beer by 1718 Brewing Ocracoke and City Beverage Co. (Budweiser), accompanied by perfect weather.

One of two auctioneers, Philip Howard. Photo: P. Vankevich

Inside the barn, the tables around the edges were stacked with donated items for both the silent and live auctions for bidders to see up close.

After the meals and the silent auction, the main attraction—the live auction—began, conducted by MCs Bill Cole and Philip Howard.

Constant raising of the bidding paddles kept the packed room from overheating as the competition grew fierce for 72 items, ranging from highly prized, hand-carved duck decoys, stays at some of the island lodgings and even a week in Vail, Colorado, artwork, fishing trips and gift certificates from island businesses.

But the auction highlight, which has reached island folklore status over past several years, were three cakes, one fig and two chocolate, baked by Ruth Toth, of the former Atlantic Café fame.

The audience cheered on the high rollers.

Larry Ihle always bids on the cakes but bows out before the end so that another person can win. But this year, he kept in the race.

“I don’t know what happened, but this year I just wanted my cake,” he said after winning one of the chocolate cakes for $2,100. The second chocolate cake went to Mike Johnson for $2,000 and the fig cake went for $700.

“Ruth is pretty amazing raising $4,800 for the fire company,” Larry said. “It was the most fun we ever had.”

The OVFD also did a brisk business as Jude Wheeler and Jeff Dippold sold commemorative t-shirts near the entrance.

OVFD Chief Albert O’Neal also was happy and noted that the amount raised for the fire company will be the most ever.  The chief was a principle  greeter as he handed out hundreds of wrist bands verifying each person  was of legal age to drink a beer or  glass of  wine. The firefighters and admin. volunteers were spread out throughout the evening serving drinks, helping with auction items and doing whatever was necessary to make this such a success.

Ocracoke Rockers with Marcy Brenner. Photo: P. Vankevich

After the auctions, the Ocracoke Rockers took the stage, followed by the Dune Dogs, the band that founded this fundraiser 14 years ago.

In addition to the several hundred people present to show their support for the OVFD, nearly 70 businesses offered financial support.

Because the OVFD relies heavily on donations—from individuals, businesses—this is the most important fundraising event for the OVFD, which faces a challenge in getting a new fire truck and providing funds for equipment and training for the dedicated volunteers ready for emergencies at any time.

The venue worked out so well, Larry said, that the ball will be at the Berkley Barn from now on.

Those wishing to donate can make out a check to the Ocracoke Fire Protection Association (OFPA) and mail it to OFPA, P.O. Box 332, Ocracoke, NC 27960.

Island artist Mark Brown paints the scene. His painting was auctioned later. Photo: C. Leinbach
Ruth Toth’s three cakes fetched a total of $4,800 in what has become a legendary part of the live auction.

Point of disclosure: Peter Vankevich is an OVFD firefighter 



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  1. WHAT AN awesome article and event!! Way to go to Ocracoke residents for raising this enormous amt of money to help OI Fire Dept!! Writer Vankevich
    made this article”come alive” with his professional writing. Love reading his articles!!

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