Lauren Sauers and Kaleb Ricker each were awarded scholarships at the annual banquet of the Union County chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Sauers is a senior at Elgin High School and Ricker is a senior at La Grande High School. They received scholarships of between $400 and $600. DICK MASON / The Observer
The Union County Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation set a fundraising record at its annual banquet Saturday.
The chapter’s banquet also gave dozens of youngsters many reasons to smile.
The chapter raised a gross total of $64,800 at the banquet, breaking the all time mark of approximately $60,000 set about four years ago. Money was generated by the sale of dinner tickets, silent and live auction items, raffles and donations by sponsors.
A total of 301 people attended the banquet, 86 of who were Jake members --- those age 17 and under. Fifty-seven of these youths received guns.
Thirty-five, all age 9-13, were given guns by Steve West of Steve’s Outdoor Adventures.
West, who lives in La Grande, gave away 15 CVA .243 rifles and 20 .22 caliber rifles.
This marked the third straight year West has given away rifles to youths at the banquet. West donates the guns each year because he wants to help young people become lifelong outdoorsmen.
“The future of hunting and shooting sports in very important to me,’’ West said. “If we do not encourage our kids to become involved in hunting, shooting sports and fishing, we are going to lose them (to other activities ).’’
Over the past three years, West has also given away guns to youths in Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. To date he has donated 300 guns to youths.
He is about a third of the way to his goal of giving away 1,000 guns to young people.
In addition to the guns West gave away at Saturday’s banquet in La Grande, 22 more were provided to youths by the Union County NWTF chapter. Fourteen BB guns and two .22 rifles were given to children ages eight and under and six other guns were given away to youths by the NWTF chapter. Youths also won other prizes at the banquet.
The leaders of the Union County NWTF chapter have long strived to reach out to youths at its banquets.
“Every kid walks away with something every year,’’ said Dwayne Craft, president of the Union County NWTF chapter.
Two scholarships were awarded at the banquet. The recipients were Lauren Sauers, a senior at Elgin High School, and Kaleb Ricker, a senior at La Grande High School. Sauers and Ricker were awarded college scholarships of between $400 and $600.
Big ticket items sold at the auctions included a $4,000 elk hunt in Saskatchewan donated by Craft’s company, Or-Can Hunting, and a hunting rifle worth $2,100 donated by Bob Gedlick of St. Helens. Gedlick earlier lived in Cove.
Works by local artists which raised a significant amount of money included a framed turkey painting by Chris Loman of La Grande, which sold for $500.
A total of 51 women signed up for Women In The Outdoors at the banquet. This is a program for women in which they learn about outdoor activities.
Each year, the Union County Chapter of the NWTF has more sign ups for Women In The Outdoors at its banquet than the rest of the other NWTF chapters in the state combined, Craft said.
A total of 86 youths ages 17 and under signed up as Jake members. Each year, the chapter has more youths sign up as Jakes at its banquet than any other chapter in the state, Craft said.
The net raised at the chapter’s banquet is now being tabulated and is expected to be about $23,000.
Much of this money will spent in the Union County area for wildlife habitat improvements, bows and arrows for a 4-H club, live traps which will be used by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to capture nuisance turkeys in communities, and more.
The other half of the net total raised will be sent to the NWTF national headquarters in Edgefield, S.C.