WHITING | Baseball, hot dogs and support for the nation's veterans has become a tradition at the Whiting Oilmen's annual Veteran Benefit Night scheduled for Tuesday at Oil City Stadium.
The game was to include a performance by David "The Bullet" Smith, the human cannonball, but that idea was shot down by the city's concerns over insurance. The rest of the show will go on, including fireworks after the game.
"The mission of the day for us has been to promote veteran causes," Oilmen President Don Popravak said. "A lot of my family were veterans, and I have a nephew who was in Iraq, so I have a very strong affinity in helping this group out."
Money raised from the game the last two years went to national veterans groups, but this year, it will be used to help fund construction of a home for a homeless veteran in Lake County. The team is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana and the Northwest Indiana Veterans Action Council.
The team provided 1,500 tickets to the two groups for the game, and Popravak said a sellout crowd would generate about $10,000 toward the $90,000 total needed to build the house. That would put the fundraising effort at about the halfway point through donations, sponsorships and in-kind contributions.
Veterans Action Council Chairman Michael Sparber said the Veterans Build Project is about raising awareness of the problem of homelessness among veterans, in addition to raising money. The homeless rate is much higher among veterans than among the general population. An announcement will be made at the game as to the family chosen to occupy the home to be built.
"There are so many good causes for veterans, but in this case, every dime raised will be used right here in Lake County," Sparber said. "We hope to raise the money and start construction by late fall so we can get the deserving veteran in the home as soon as possible."
Sparber said there are 37,000 veterans living in Lake County and another 13,000 in Porter County.
"There's a lot of work to do," he said. "There's always a veteran in need. It's about awareness, and this is one way to bring awareness of veterans' issues in Northwest Indiana."
Retired Marine Bill Wellman, of Valparaiso and a veteran of the D-Day invasion, and Patti Nowaczyk, a Dyer resident whose son, Army Staff Sgt. David Nowaczyk, was killed in action in Afghanistan, will throw out the ceremonial first pitches. Habitat Director Dan Klein said the goal is to do one house a year for a veteran.
"We're pretty excited about it," Klein said. "It's an opportunity that came to us. The money could pay for the electric or the plumbing in the house."
"I wanted to help people at home this year," Popravak said. "They are our neighbors, our friends, our family. What better way than to build a house for a veteran? If we can also help raise more awareness, that will be a great thing."