Barbecue smoke wafted through the air, musicians sang on the stage, and women sold plants under the shade of an oak tree during a Feb. 1 fundraiser to benefit Lewis and Diane Riggleman of Dade City.
A fire swept through the couple’s home days before Christmas, causing damage that’s so severe the house cannot be repaired.
Fire and smoke damage ruined most of the couple’s other belongings, and their dog, Taz and cat, Christopher, perished in the blaze.
Lewis is an ornamental blacksmith and has been involved in blacksmithing in the local community for years. He has participated in many arts and crafts shows, as well as worked as a true crafts demonstrator. As owner and operator of the Ramshead Forge in San Antonio, he offers an introduction to blacksmithing as well as advanced training for more experienced students.
Diane is a storyteller and craftsperson who demonstrates broom making, rope making, and other traditional crafts throughout Florida and the Southeast.
The community event at the City of San Antonio Park was an incredible outpouring of love and generosity — and a bit overwhelming, Diane Riggleman said.
When she and Lewis arrived, they knew a benefit was being held in their honor, but they had no idea how many people would be there.
The crowd was so big that Diane thought there were two events going on at the park.
Diane Riggleman said she and her husband, initially, didn’t want people to go out of their way to help them. There are many other people who have gone through worse trials, she explained.
But many people pitching in at the benefit said it was a pleasure to help the couple.
In many ways, the community festival felt like a giant reunion, Diane Riggleman said.
People showed up that the couple hasn’t seen in years, she said.
She said she and Lewis don’t use the word “awesome” to describe things, but in this case the character of the event truly merits the description.
The benefit ran from noon to 5 p.m., but volunteers began assembling hours before festivities began. They set up folding chairs so spectators could enjoy the bands playing on stage. They lugged plants to sell under the shade tree. They arranged gift baskets and auction items on tables. They prepared food to sell.
Chet Taylor, owner of the Dade City Animal Clinic, spent hours slow-cooking the pulled pork that he transported to the event to be sold to help feed the hungry masses, while raising money to help the Rigglemans.
Once the event got under way, volunteers were busy selling and serving food, pouring beer and selling chances for the drawings.
Everyone seemed happy to be playing a part.
Donna Messenger, a native of Dade City who lives in North Carolina now, was there with Susan Maesen, selling plants.
Both women have known the Rigglemans for decades.
“They’re just a very neat couple,” Maesen said.
“They’re definitely people-people,” Messenger added.
“I think they’re astounded by people doing this.”
“My slogan has been: They need cash now,” Messenger said.
One of the event organizers, Dennis Devine, said he’s known the couple “forever.”
The couple didn’t have insurance, but the community is stepping up, Devine said.
“We’ve got thousands of dollars of donated stuff, beautiful items,” he said.
Wendy Clifford, from St. Joseph, was there helping, too.
Her husband, Joe Clifford, and the Rotary Club played a huge role in putting on the event.
“The both of them are really good people,” Wendy Clifford said. “So, now we’re trying to help them. This is all community.”
Besides helping them, the event was fun, Diane Riggleman said.
“There was great dancing. There was food. It was amazing,” she said.
“We slept last night, like babies.”
Want to help?
The Rotary Club of San Antonio is collecting donations through its 501(3)(c) nonprofit fund to qualify the donations as tax deductible.
Funds raised will be deposited in the Rotary Club of San Antonio, FL Fund Inc., account at the San Antonio Citizens Federal Credit Union prior to full distribution to the Rigglemans.
Online donations may also be made through Go Fund Me at GoFundMe.com/jrxxpg.
Published February 4, 2015