By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Three local nonprofit organizations are turning personal tragedies into a chance to give back to the community Saturday at the second annual Harzfest benefit.
The Jim Harszlak Foundation, the Gregory Hayes Holler Memorial Fund and the American Legion Post 264, all connected by a common thread, are holding a bash at the post from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
The family of Gregory Hayes Holler formed the GHH Memorial Fund after Gregory’s unexpected death in 2008 at the age of 17.
“It helps us grieve, and helps with the community ... those that are more in need,” Don Holler, Gregory’s father said.
Tragedy continued to strike the Holler family in the coming years. Gregory’s sister-in-law, Gina Holler, died in 2010 after a battle with melanoma.
And two year’s after Gina’s death, Gregory’s brother-in-law, Jim Harszlak, passed away from colon cancer.
“It seems like every two years something bad happens to our family,” 13-year-old Amanda Holler, Gina’s daughter, said.
In order to cope with their loss and give back to the area’s youth, Don and his wife, Nancy, committed themselves to raising funds to build a skate park in Ives Park in Tonawanda, honoring their son who loved skate parks and doing stunts on his BMX bike.
After years of fundraising, the Hollers raised $125,000 for the construction, and a grand opening for the park was held in May. It’s now the only park of its kind within 100 miles or more.
The GHH Memorial Fund is dipping its toes into the Harzfest benefit, an event that began last year to raise money for Jim’s medical bills, as well as he and his wife Susan Holler-Harszlak’s transportation to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Ill.
“With the treatments, flights, the cost was large,” Susan said. “We decided to throw a benefit.”
More than 650 people attended the event last February to help Jim and Susan.
“He said, ‘hopefully we can do this and give back next time,’” Susan said.
Jim passed away in September after a lengthy battle with the disease, but Susan and the rest of the family have carried on with his wish with the planning of Saturday’s event.
The American Legion Post’s organizers Dennis Smilinich and his wife Jackie both grew up with Nancy Holler’s family in Gastown. The post is constantly donating money to community programs and has donated the space for the event, which will feature music by four different bands, basket raffles, food, beer and pop.
Craig Matthews of WYRK will be the emcee for the day, as well, and JJ Richert, chef of Torches and Smoke on the Water, has agreed to donate chili.
Tickets are $20 ahead of time, $25 at the door, $10 for students and children under 10 are free.
Proceeds from the event will go toward three separate scholarships, the GHH Fund and Jim Harszlak Foundation and the American Legion’s scholarships.
Don said the GHH Fund Memorial scholarship, worth $1,000, goes to graduating senior from Tonawanda High School who needs assistance with tuition for further education.
Susan said the scholarship in Jim’s name will be awarded to a Tonawanda senior for the first time this year.
“He loved music, so we will probably focus on that ... and someone who is active in the community,” Susan said.
The profits will also go to the three organizations’ other charitable works. The GHH Fund plans to stay involved with the Rockin’ With Santa Toy Drive, the Kids’ Fishing Derby and St. Francis’ work.
And the Jim Harszlak Foundation works to help those in need, especially those facing insurmountable medical bills.
So far, more than 200 tickets have been sold, and Susan and Don said the event will likely serve as a big reunion for the Tonawanda community.
“It’s really snowballing, it will be a big affair ... I think people will really enjoy it,” Don said.
Tickets are available at Smoke on the Water restaurant on Young Street, or by calling Don Holler at 693-4907.IF YOU GO WHAT: Harzfest 2013, food, drinks, music and basket raffles WHERE: American Legion Post 264, 60 Main St., Tonawanda WHEN: Saturday, 3 to 10 p.m. TICKETS: $20 presale, $25 at the door, $10 for students and free for children under 10; Tickets are available at Smoke on the Water restaurant on Young Street, or by calling Don Holler at 693-4907. IF YOU WANT TO HELP: Contact Susan Holler-Harszlak at firstname.lastname@example.org Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150