"A No Brainer" : Community raises funds for tumor removal

Katie Eitner (center) and other Greene County 4-H members pose with the lamb, who was auctioned off for over $300 per pound. (Photo by Ron Cralton)

Katie Eitner has a full-time job this fall: writing thank-you notes.

The 13-year-old made headlines during the Greene County Fair, when her lamb sold for over $300 a pound at a 4-H auction. The value was the result of a community coming together to help her stepfather, Harley Joe Gapen, who had a brain tumor removed in August.

Eitner and her mother, Heather Gapen, said they had no idea this was going to happen when Eitner stepped into the ring.

The teen has been part of 4-H for six years now, so she was aware of how the auctions work. She said she noticed the sale prices were a little low that evening – at least until hers started.

“I started the sale at $20, so it was a lot to take in out there by myself for a little,” Eitner said. “I started crying but it was good.”

Gapen said that, earlier that day, she found out friends had donated to her husband’s surgery fund, so she was already very emotional. So Eitner’s lamb doing so well brought her to tears.

“The animals bring maybe $600 to $1,200 usually. I thought maybe Katie would get a little extra grand because people knew what we were going through, but not that much. I was just shocked and then it kept going up really fast,” Gapen said. “I had no idea how many buyers until just last weekend, [when] we got a buyer list.”

A total of 32 buyers, between businesses and community members, contributed. Finding them was the work of Roger VanDruff, of VanDruff Tractor & Implement Sales. He said his and Gapen’s families go way back and he wanted to do something to help his old friend.

“No pun intended, it was a no brainer for me to do this, it really was,” VanDruff said.

The family received its check for the lamb in late August: $46,130. According to Gapen, after they take care of the medical bills, any remaining money will go toward Eitner’s education.

“I just sit and cry sometimes because of the whole thing, how people come together in helping out family,” Gapen said. “My husband hasn’t worked since March, but we had no idea this was going to happen at all and we’re just in shock.”

VanDruff waited until Eitner’s lamb was weighed in and went in search of donors. His goal was for the lamb to bring $200 a pound and he had four days to do it. On Thursday, Aug. 8, morning, he had raised $165 a pound for it. An impressive number, but not his goal.

VanDruff was sitting at a Bob Evans waiting to hear back from people he had called when he found someone who could help. Done deal: That final donor raised the extra $35 per pound to meet VanDruff’s goal. However, it didn’t stop there.

“That evening, I had phone calls, people who wanted to see me. We got to $231 a pound and I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “Before the night was over, I had people come to me and we were at $300 a pound at the auction.”

According to VanDruff, people from outside of Greene County also got involved, with money coming from as far as Pittsburgh and State College. Also, 4-H members in Washington County donated money, something he only found out recently.

During Eitner’s auction, her colleagues from 4-H also stepped into the ring to show support – another thing VanDruff said he didn’t know about until later.

“I didn’t know that the kids were all in the ring because my back was to them because I was taking bids from people and I didn’t realize they were there until I turned around and saw them walking out,” he said.

VanDruff describes what happened with words like “unbelievable” and “moving,” adding he was “amazed at the response.”

“I didn’t do this for me, I did this for them,” he said. “I’m just simply thankful the community got involved.”

Gapen said they haven’t stopped getting phone calls and letters from people wishing them the best and sending money donations.

“This is what feeling famous feels like, but in a good way, I guess,” Gapen said. “I just can’t believe how great people can be.”

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