ASHLAND -- An Ashland resident with a big heart for veterans is looking to raise money for a newly formed Bellville nonprofit.
Pat Wilt, 62, built a bench out of a tailgate earlier this year and has been traveling around Richland and Ashland Counties for approximately a month selling raffle tickets to raise money for the Love Our Hero’s Store and Donation Center, 103 E. Durbin Ave., Suite A, in Bellville.
Wilt, whose father was a veteran, wandered into the nonprofit’s store earlier this year without much knowledge about the organization. He simply spotted an item posted on the Love Our Hero’s Store and Donation Center’s Facebook page. He was interested in buying it, so traveled across the county line to pick it up.
“It was a clip for a 1950’s car’s radiator. I collect those kind of things,” he said.
Upon arriving at the Bellville store, a handful of other items also peaked his interest, so he struck up a conversation with the nonprofit’s founder, Tami Oyster. He learned she’d opened the store in early 2019 with intentions to sell several of her own items to raise money to support local veterans.
But she quickly realized a larger potential when other people began donating their own furniture, appliances and other items to the store for her to resell.
At this point, Oyster realized the need to launch her own nonprofit. She filed the paperwork and set out with a mission to aid local veterans. She’s since covered rent, utilities, groceries and car payments for area veterans, who are referred to her. She even paid for one veteran’s house repairs.
Long term, Oyster says she’s decided the proceeds from the store will support home health care for local veterans, which she sees as a need in the community.
“I had a nurse come into the store, and she told me every time they have someone in this area, they get put on a waiting list because no one wants to travel here. And so we decided we should fill a need that is here.”
Wilt was inspired by Oyster’s enthusiasm and passion to help local veterans, so he offered to build a tailgate bench and raffle it off on behalf of the Bellville nonprofit.
“He came into my store, and he told me he makes tailgate benches, and asked if he could raffle one off for me, so I said, ‘yeah, sure,’ ” Oyster said. “I wasn’t even sure he’d come back, and well, he came back and told me everything about it had been donated and he was going to make it.
"I didn’t even know this gentleman.”
According to Wilt, the supplies to build the bench were donated by Home Depot in Ashland and the tailgate was given to him by John Grossenbacher. Because it had some dents in it, Wilt took it to Nagy’s Collision in Ashland. There, he said, the manager Karl Kuhn donated the cost of the repairs.
He went on to credit Irwin’s Office Supplies for donating the raffle tickets, and Justin Chance of Innovative Graphics for designing and installing the bench’s patriotic-themed wrap.
“The rest was done by me. I bought the lights, the F150 emblem, and the top rail on the tailgate,” Wilt said.
He would send Oyster occasional updated photos of the bench and later showed it to her in person.
“For someone to take time out of their day and do this for veterans, I was just blown away,” Oyster said. “It was gorgeous. I cried. I couldn’t even believe how beautiful it was.”
Since then, Wilt has taken it to several local events to sell raffle tickets. He estimates more than 1,000 have already sold, but he’d like to sell even more.
It will be raffled off on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 21 at Love Our Hero’s first-ever Fall Fest. The event will run from 4 to 9 p.m. at Clear Fork Adventure Resort, 341 Resort Drive in Butler.
Until then, Wilt wanted to let people know he’s still looking for more locations to bring the bench and sell raffle tickets.
“It’s for a good cause,” he said. “Right away, I could tell (Oyster) was passionate about this.”