Time to give - Lakes Region shows its generosity during the holiday season

By Adam Drapcho

LACONIA — December is the season of giving, and in the Lakes Region, that includes giving to a variety of local charitable efforts. It has become an annual tradition that is as reliable and celebrated as Christmas lights and shopping excursions.

None of the local fundraisers is more celebrated than the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction, started by radio personality Warren Bailey in 1982. Bailey raised $2,100 that year. The auction, which solicits bids for items donated by the community, has grown into a six-day affair broadcast on two radio stations, one TV station and the auction's website. Run entirely on volunteer labor and with donated goods, every penny raised is distributed to organizations that benefit local children. Last year, the auction raised $486,575.

Accounting for nearly half of that figure was the amount raised by Pub Mania, an event hosted at Patrick's Pub & Eatery to benefit the auction. Alan Beetle, co-owner of Patrick's, said he was inspired to start Pub Mania while participating in another event, one which challenged teams to operate stationary cycles at the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club for a 24-hour period, also to raise money for the Children's Auction.

"I was sitting on a stationary cycle at 3 in the morning, talking to the guy next to me, thinking, 'This model would work pretty well on a bar stool.'"

Turns out Beetle was right.

Pub Mania, which will be held for the seventh year on Dec. 10 and 11, challenges teams to occupy a bar stool for a 24-hour period. While there's a minimum amount each team needs to raise in order to participate, many teams go far beyond and compete with each other to see which team can raise the most. Last year, the 30 teams participating in Pub Mania raised a total of $235,595, all of which was donated to the Children's Auction.

To date, Pub Mania has raised nearly $800,000 to benefit local charities, a figure Beetle said is thanks to the hard work and friendly competition among the teams. Team BPS, which raised nearly $25,000, took the title in 2014. Coming in second was Team Cafe Deja Vu, which has been at or near the top of the rankings for the past few years.

About Team Cafe Deja Vu, Beetle said, "They are probably the hardest working team – they keep the true spirit of fun in their events."

Co-captain of Team Deja Vu, Tony Felch, said the team works year-round to raise money for Pub Mania. The team hosts raffles, comedy nights and concerts, all to be donated to the Children's Auction via Pub Mania. Last year, the team raised nearly $20,000, and it hopes to surpass that figure this year.

"We put a pretty high goal on ourselves to raise that amount of money," said Felch.

It takes a lot of work to try and reach that goal, he said, but it's the thought of what those dollars will be used for that encourages the effort.

"It's for the kids, so that's why we all do it. There's a lot of people that step up to the plate and donate," Felch said. "The community realizes there's a need. We have a really good community that comes together when there's a need."

While the firefighters' "boot drives" might not be among the Children's Auction's larger contributors, they are among its most time-honored. Standing on the sidewalk at the intersection of Pleasant and Main Streets in downtown Laconia, firefighter Chris Beaudoin and a handful of other firefighters were holding empty boots, which they used to accept donations of dollar bills from passing motorists. Beaudoin said the Laconia Professional Fire Fighters Association has been collecting for the auction for 15 years, donating the amount they collect, plus some from the union's account, to total $1,500 to $2,000 each year.

"Our organization takes time to give back to the organization as much as we can. It's what we do as caregivers," said Beaudoin.

Among the regular beneficiaries of the Children's Auction is the Salvation Army, which operates a soup kitchen and family homeless shelter in Laconia. Chris Rockwell, who was ringing a bell for a red collection kettle outside of the Wal-Mart in Gilford on Friday, knows the importance of the donations. He started volunteering as a bell ringer for Salvation Army four years ago.

"An old friend told us about it because we were in a jam and the Salvation Army helped us out of it ... I know what it's like to be poor and not be able to give a kid a Christmas," said Rockwell.

His situation has improved, but Rockwell keeps volunteering as a way to show his gratitude and to help extend assistance to others.

"They really, truly care," he said. "That made me very happy, because he had a Christmas."

Imitators welcome

Beetle, the originator of Pub Mania, said he hopes to see other restaurants or clubs copy his model.

"It's a model worth looking at for any restaurant that would like to raise money for something near and dear to them," he said. "Every restaurant has a community."

He's found that the Pub Mania model can leverage that community to great ends. However, he said organizers should keep a couple of things in mind. First, the event should benefit a cause that will inspire a wide range of people.

"What's made Pub Mania such a phenomenal success is that it's done for the Children's Auction. People believe in the mission of the Children's Auction – taking care of kids."

Secondly, Beetle said the event has to be fun. At Pub Mania, there's a packed schedule of events to keep participants entertained. Bands, games, even bar-stool yoga, all make sure everyone has such a good time they can't wait to sign up for next year.

"If you can keep it fun," he said, "you can sustain it longer."

Lastly, he said organizers shouldn't consider their event a success or failure based on a predetermined goal. While it's fun to eclipse a prior year's mark, he said, "We have to keep in mind it's going to be a success, no matter what the number is."

He invited anyone who wished to learn more about hosting a Pub Mania-style event to contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Hoping for a miracle - Laconia Athletic and Swim Club shuts doors, seeks investors to rescue club from creditors

LACONIA — Laconia Athletic and Swim Club, a business many have come to love and depend on for their health and recreation, closed Thanksgiving afternoon under a mountain of debt. Yet the owner clings to a glimmer of hope that a local investor, or investors, will step forward to help rescue the club.
Tom Oakley told The Daily Sun in an emotional interview he had no choice but to shut the doors. He is unable to restructure his mortgage and meet payroll obligations beyond Thursday.
"Our hearts are breaking," said Oakley, 59, of Meredith. "My wife and I (feel bad), because we are closing the doors on a thousand-plus members, 63-plus employees. We have the local swim team — about 60 separate families — and 50-plus families in the swim program, and the seniors who need the facility for their overall health. They trusted us, and to have this turn on us so fast is just breaking our hearts."
Oakley has been desperately working on a rescue plan with Mike Benton, owner and CEO of the Executive Health and Sports Center in Manchester, the Sportsplex in Bedford, and the president and CEO of the Genavix Wellness Network. But any deal to save the club depends on finding a new partner or partners with a lot of cash.
"I think the best thing that could happen is somehow we put together some kind of recovery," said Benton, "lending our name and support. It requires existing creditors to restructure."
The club, which Oakley has owned for the past 24 years, was on a roll until recently, when a confluence of unexpected events threw him for a loop — loss of federal funding for energy-saving projects, bankruptcy of the primary mortgage holder, employee challenges and the loss of members over operating decisions like ending in-the-building child care.
Oakley had experienced 69 percent revenue growth from 2011 to 2013, taking gross revenue from $1,058,034 to $1,791,978.
"Over the last three years, we have invested over $1 million into the facility," said Oakley, "consisting of energy-efficient HVAC systems, new training studios, exercise equipment and building improvements. Unfortunately, due to a federal regulation, a significant part of our energy improvement project was denied after we had committed to the project, which forced us to take on another loan to address the gap in the project."
To compound the problem, the first lien holder for the club went bankrupt, making it difficult to refinance, he said.
"For 18 months, our note was 'owned' by the FDIC," said Oakley, "which prevented us from having access to any reasonable lending or refinancing opportunities. This left us with unfavorable lenders to choose from during this challenging time."
Oakley said he made additional decisions that, in retrospect, led to losses in membership and revenue.
"We are now slowly recovering after rectifying the situation a few months ago," he said. "Couple that with a few employee challenges."
"We regret this sudden notice," he said, "but we were just notified by our lender of their decision. We simply cannot continue to operate under these conditions."
Both Oakley and Benton are hoping someone in the community will have the resources to help. Anyone wishing to contact Oakley may do so at toakley @lascfit.com. He said he needs a partner who can help restructure the debt and infuse some cash into the business. Benton is giving his support and name value, saying that his experience with the Executive should be an asset.
Henry Lipman, Ward 3 city councilor and longtime member of the club, views the club as one well worth saving.
"It continues to be a community asset," he said, "and as a business they've done a lot of good work to be a community resource. They've supported the Children's Auction. I'm hoping they'll be able to work something out. They're good people."
Lipman noted that the Oakleys were involved in many community fundraisers, such as Pumpkinfest, the Children's Auction, the Santa Fund and area triathlons, and that there are a lot of people in the area who depend on them for their health.
Oakley said he hopes anyone with a membership will give them time to figure out the situation before asking for refunds, as he hopes to reopen again very soon.
"We once again are optimistic that a solution can be accomplished, but not without others," he said.

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Millstone park drainage project gets TIF money

LACONIA — The Laconia City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to approve the transfer of  $29,590  from two different TIF accounts to pay for the Millstone Park drainage and sidewalk project, which saw a “pocket park” created at the end of Pleasant Street near the McIntyre Block.
The approved transfers included $19,515.17 from the funds left over in TIF Gateway Improvement Project, which was undertaken in coordination with the reconstruction of the Main Street Bridge, and $10,074.83 from the $53,000 set aside in a TIF contingency and bond fee account.
Voting against the transfers were Ward 4 Councilor Brenda Baer and Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel.– Gail Ober

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