Guests spurred on for a cause at Habitat Cracker Hoedown

VERO BEACH — Duded out in western garb and ready to cowboy-up, folks got on their “Yeee-Haw” at the sixth annual Habitat Cracker Hoedown to benefit Habitat for Humanity.

“This comes out every year,” said Andy Bowler, Habitat for Humanity of Indian River President/CEO of his western-style checkered shirt and jaunty red bandanna.  “It’s the only time I wear this shirt and the only time I wear these jeans.” Guests moseyed into the enormous white tent, set up at Riverside Park, for the cocktail hour where they perused tables filled with silent auction items while listening to the dulcet sounds of the Heritage Bluegrass Band.  Auction items tempted all tastes, from gift certificates to local businesses to a luxurious Hawaiian vacation, and even an autographed Rolling Stones Guitar.

The delightfully inventive decorations, including the ‘jails,’ ticket booths and games and down-home country chic decor, were the creations of trio of ladies, led by Leslie Balcerak.

“We’ve worked on it together for a couple of years; we keep adding to it,” said Laura McKellar.

“Leslie has the vision for it; she plans it and we help her do it,” added Linda Lyles.

A couple of new games were added to the mix this year – the Wheel of Misfortune, where spinners could either win a prize or be forced to dance a jig or make a donation, and Hillbilly Golf using some rather rustic looking putters.

But the activities that drew the most crowds were the always popular wine bottle ring toss, and of course that daunting mechanical bull.

Showing perfect cowgirl form and stick-to-itiveness, the first brave rodeo rider was Tracy Harris.  “I’ve never been on one and always wanted to,” laughed Harris.  “I love Urban Cowboy.”

Several personalities felt the long arm of the law and were tossed into the pokey by Indian River County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bud Spencer.  The first two nabbed were radio personalities Rhett Palmer, self-proclaimed “Mayor of the Airways” and Bart “The Bartman” Mazzarella of Christian FM.

Competition heated up as County Commissioner Wesley Davis whipped up the crowd, soliciting bail money to get them out of jail.  Punishment for the loser was to be a ride on the mechanical bull.

“I contributed to keep Rhett off the mechanical bull,” said PGA professional Bert Prenaveau.  “I felt sorry for the bull.”

Fortunately, this battle of the airways ended in a $250 apiece tie; with the ultimate winner being Habitat for Humanity.

Following the cocktail hour, guests chowed down on a mouthwatering BBQ buffet with all the fixings, with selections of grilled filet of beef, pulled pork sliders and fried chicken.  And the evening was rounded out with a little Texas Two-Stepping to the sounds of Dreamer on the stage.

Now that he is no longer board chairman, Rene Donars laughed that he only works on Habitat related activities three or four times a week.

“The biggest thing they’ve done recently is to use the resources we have to rehabilitate older homes,” said Donars.

Locally, the National Revitalization Initiative (NRI) currently has a list of more than 30 homes to renovate.

“The jobs take much less time and money so we can double the help to families.   It’s an expansion of our services to the community,” explained Donars. {igallery 301}

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