Fundraiser held for families of 2 men who died in farm fire

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Farm Forum

FORT PIERRE (AP) — People came out by the hundreds on Aug. 22 to show their support for two men who died from injuries in a farm fire this month. In fact, so many people came out that the restaurant fundraiser to honor them had to start an hour early.

The Fort Pierre Fire Department Auxiliary and other firefighters waited tables and filled the drinks in a very crowded restaurant. A portion of the restaurant’s profits, and all of the tips, went to a tragic, but noble cause.

The auxiliary had scheduled a fundraiser about a year ago at the Pizza Ranch in Fort Pierre. Originally, the idea was to raise money for the auxiliary, which uses that money to assist fire victims.

But when an explosion and fire Aug. 8 on the Hattum farm east of Pierre fatally injured Troy Hattum and Chalan Hedman, “it just came naturally” to change the purpose of the fundraiser slightly. Instead of the money going to the auxiliary, all the money would go directly to the families of these two victims, said Beth Leidholt, one of the event organizers.

Hattum died of his injuries shortly after being taken to Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre. Hedman underwent surgery and treatment for days in a St. Paul, Minnesota, hospital but succumbed to his critical injuries Aug. 18, the Capital Journal reported.

“We knew we needed to do something; they’re local. And we already had the date scheduled for our fundraiser, so we decided to donate our date, and still work the fundraiser, and yet make the money for the families. That was important to us,” she said.

Hedman and Hattum, both 22, worked on the farm together. They were best friends and were friends with everybody, said Sarah Maskovich, another of the organizers.

Speaking before the event, Leidholdt said she expected to raise more than $2,000 — about $1,000 for each family. As the event was winding to a close, the auxiliary crossed the $3,000 mark.

Leidholt was impressed by the turnout.

“We are touched at the community support that we’re seeing,” she said. “This is amazing.”

Lee Gerlach, owner of the local Pizza Ranch, had eight extra people on staff compared to a typical Monday night — and that’s in addition to the volunteer servers from the fire auxiliary.

“It just means we have the best community, where they’re supportive. They always come together for things like this,” Gerlach said.

People who want to donate to the families can mail a check to the auxiliary at P.O. Box 865, Fort Pierre, SD 57532, or call 605-280-9294.