BROCTON - "They say it takes a village to raise a child, I think that's clearly evident here today."
Those were the sentiments of Chris Sausaman, who, along with a well-organized committee of volunteers, helped produce a massive fundraising memorial benefit to honor the late Damon Janes.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of spaghetti dinners being handed out, auction bids being accepted for large-ticket items and a steady stream of bands taking to an outdoor stage from The Nickel Plate Depot in Brocton, Sausaman and Depot proprietor Julie Fortner took a breather to comment on the heartfelt turnout for Damon's family.
"We just want Damon's family to know that we really share in their heartache, and we love and support them," Sausaman said. "We had bikers come in all the way from Erie, Pa., today for our Bike Run at the St. Stephen's, which included over 230 bikes, just to be a part of this. That's just amazing to me."
"It just makes me really proud to be part of this community, and I just hope the support continues on after today," added Fortner.
The day after Damon's injury, Sausaman and Fortner had discussed with their friends how they could help. Learning that Damon had succumbed to his injury on the field fueled the fire for them to do something.
"Everything literally just fell into place," said Sausaman. "We were approached by so many businesses and individuals that we didn't even have to approach people for help or donations."
A social media post letting the community know that there would be a public planning meeting at the Depot sparked the right combination of volunteers who immediately went into action.
"Chris, on behalf of the Nickel City Nomads bike group, and Julie, on behalf of the Nickel Plate Depot, put out a general announcement that they would like to raise money for The Damon Janes Memorial Fund," said Karen Cave, fundraising coordinator. "Our first meeting we had over 40 people, including students who were ready to get this done in a week and a half."
Cave's fellow fundraising committee member, Dawn Grezgorewski, was shocked to witness simple word of mouth spread across the country and into organizations such as the NFL and NHL, which led to a coast-to-coast response.
"We've had monetary donations come from as far as Oregon, Florida and even former Brocton native Loretta Ribble, who currently resides in Wisconsin, literally sent us her entire days' worth of tips from the restaurant where she works to donate to Damon's fund," Grezgorewski said.
One person who wasn't shocked by the outpouring of love and support from near and far was Mark Witmer, who spoke Sunday from the Depot on behalf of Damon's family.
Witmer, who is a best friend to Damon's father Dean, looked around at the crowd.
"I'm not surprised by this at all," Witmer said. "Growing up here in Brocton, it's just what people do. Some might say it's a bad thing to live in a small community where everybody knows everything about you, but this is one of the really good things about a small community."
The event provided a nice welcome home to Witmer and his family, who recently moved back to the area following his retirement from the United States Army and feels the fundraiser will "be part of the healing process for the entire family, this is something they need and something the community needs."
Having lived all over the world as a career serviceman, Witmer stated the only other time outside of Western New York that he has seen an outpouring like this, was from another small town who lost a teenager to a motor vehicle accident. Living in Cyriel, Okla., Witmer saw firsthand how the town "came together in a similar way, and the high school was small enough that it graduated only 15 students from its senior class, they honored that student's life in a similar way, and this is what today is about honoring and celebrating Damon's life."
When asked what a testament to the kind of person Damon was to bring out such an outpouring of love on Sunday, Witmer smiled.
"I'll share what I've learned talking to all of Damon's classmates. He truly gave 110 percent in everything he did; that's very important to note," Witmer said. "Whether it was motocross, or football, anything it was always 110 percent. And his friends have all said they could be mad at him one minute, and as soon as he cracked that huge smile of his, everything was forgotten a second later."
Even after the last band steps off the stage Sunday, and the last lantern is sent into the air in honor of Damon, Witmer, along with Fortner and Sausaman, remind the community that continued prayers and support for the family are still needed. Donations can still be received by the memorial fund which is set up at Community Bank.
Cave and Grzegorewski were still receiving donations for the massive auction taking place inside the Depot. Since the space was out of room to fit any more items into Sunday's auction, Cave announced that any overflow donations will be handed over to volunteers of the fundraiser chicken and biscuit dinner and auction being held Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Westfield Moose Lodge and being sponsored by the Westfield's Women of The Moose chapter.
"We absolutely are going to support their event and any extra, late coming baskets or donations received will be going directly to The Women of The Moose fundraiser," said Cave.
Aside from a lineup of seven bands, who all stepped forward to volunteer their entertainment, a children's activities booth, a specially designed Motocross track as well as a vendor booth for Damon Janes T-shirts and ribbons welcomed a large crowd.
Witmer was especially glad to welcome Alex Abramov of Noggin Sport.com who was on hand to deliver his company's one-of-a-kind, original Noggins, a gel-infused skull cap that fits under any sports helmet and protects against concussion and minor traumatic brain injuries.
While the CEO declined to formally comment since he was there strictly to support Janes' parents, Penny Robinson and Dean Janes, and Damon's younger siblings, Witmer expressed his appreciation for his presence noting Damon's parents' long-term goal is to see proceeds from Sunday's event put a Noggin on the heads of as many football players, from youth to high school, as possible in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
"If Damon's parents along with Noggin can prevent this type of tragedy in any other community that's what they want to do. It's all about traumatic brain injury awareness and it's a good preventative tool that just needs to get into the right hands and onto players' heads," Witmer said.
Noggin Sports has crafted caps bearing "DJ 25" in honor of Damon available for sale and is donating a portion of their sales back to Damon's memorial fund. For more information on how to obtain the Noggins or to donate to the memorial fund, visit the Facebook page titled Damon Janes Memorial Benefit or Nogginsport.com. The Oct. 6 chicken and biscuit dinner details can also be found on Facebook at its page titled "Damon Janes Family Chicken & Biscuit Benefit Dinner."