More than 250 of the National Rifle Association's most faithful friends filled Cloverleaf Hall Saturday night for a sold-out evening of awards, dining, camaraderie and most importantly, raising funds for charitable causes. The net total total raised this year, more than $60,000, will benefit Wallowa County students as well as firearms safety and education..
“The money we raise at this event goes to college scholarships, youth shooting support, school safety education and development of our range,” said Doug Wickre, Wallowa County chapter president. “We are very proud of our role in the community.”
Some of the money garnered from auctions, games, and other fundraising efforts at the annual banquet goes to national programs such as NRA School Shield program, Eddie Eagle, Youth Education Summit, Women On Target, Law Enforcement, Competitive Shooting Sports, Disabled Shooting Services, and others.
"Some of our local groups benefit from these programs", said Gail Wickre, a volunteer and member of the banquet committee. "The rest of the money goes back to the individual states to distribute to grant requests."
"Last year," Wickre said, "the Oregon committee of the NRA foundation awarded over $350,000 in the state to nonprofit organizations. The Oregon committee allocated $30,000 for scholarships to 15 students. Two of these were Wallowa County students who were honored at the banquet. Victoria Suto received $4,000 and Kana Oliver received $2,000."
The Oregon NRA committee awards about 70 percent of their total funds to 70% to youth programs. This year, the Wallowa High School Trap Team received $15,000 and Divide Camp (which serves post-911 veterans) received $5,000. Samantha Wightman was selected to attend the Youth Education Summit in Washington, D.C. and received a $1,500 scholarship in addition to the trip to D.C. and leadership training. Eagle Cap Shooters Association (Enterprise gun range) was recommended to receive a $10,000 range improvement grant and is working to meet the requirements of that grant request.
Mike Carey, NRA Oregon and Hawaii representative, urged students to apply for the NRA’s Youth Education Summit program which takes high school students to the Oregon Legislature in Salem, and, for two lucky ones, an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. and a chance to meet with legislators. “Everyone who applies will get a trip to Salem to meet with legislators, and of those, two will get picked to go to Washington, D.C. in the summer,” he said.
Last year's winner, Samantha Wightman, a junior at Wallowa High School, shared her adventurous trip to the nation's capital with the enthralled audience. "It was the first time I ever flew on a plane," she said, "and I was worried at first, but it was OK. When I got to D.C., my phone died and so I couldn't call my Mom for awhile, and she didn't really know where I was. But that was O.K. too." Wightman toured the sights along with 31 other NRA youth Education Summit high school students from around the nation.
The emphasis on supporting youth continued with recognition of the Wallowa High School Trap Shooting team. Coached by Curtis Bloom, most team members qualified for the state finals competition. Team members scored in the top 18 of the 2,900 competitors at the National Championship in July.
Friends of the NRA have also supported Divide Camp's veterans hunts. This year, a track chair provided by funds from the banquet allowed a double-amputee to track an elk and claim the animal in a Divide Camp hunt.
Another highlight of the evening was the drawing for a handgun, only for veterans. The award, a Taurus 9mm, went to Friends of the NRA support, and U.S. Marine Corps vet John Cimmoyotti of Enterprise.
Silent auction items, from Montana Silversmith jewelry and a cord of firewood, to BlackJack and Damascus Marble knives, proved popular. Bidding was fierce.
The ever-popular Bucket Raffle items ranged from a Savage .22 rifle to Divide Camp hats. The main raffle featured premium prizes, including a Liberty Gun Safe that sheltered a .300 Weatherby, won by Panke Hauxwell. "That's for you, not for Ken," said Friends of the NRA president Doug Wickre. Ken Hauxwell is a devoted FNRA member and gun aficionado.
But the after-dinner auction brought the real action and included a variety of guns, collector's clocks, and other high-value items. New this year were the "key items". While the pies, decanter sets, and an NRA edition BB gun appeared to be relatively low value items compared to the Quigley-Ford scopes (three were auctioned at $800, which was a great value for a $1,200 customized rifle scope), Puerto Vallarta vacation, New Zealand Red Stag hunt, and a South African hunting vacation with Gerhard Pretorius, the key items came with an actual key that would unlock the trigger lock on one of the two handguns that were the real prize. (Although the locally baked homemade pies, including huckleberry and lemon meringue, looked especially good.)
FFA members and the 2020 Chief Joseph Rodeo Court helped with the auction and scalping the final tickets for raffle items. Pretty much everyone had fun and enjoyed a great meal (and especially the desserts!) catered by the Stubborn Mule.
“It all goes for great causes,” Wickre said. “We really appreciate the support and enthusiasm of this community.”