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Son’s makes great strides at camp

LOCKPORT – Mike Landers bought a 252-pound pig named “Rodney” last week at the Niagara County Fair auction, and the ripple effect of this single purchase will be felt throughout the community for some time to come.

Initially, Landers’ purchase benefits Rodney’s owner, 10-year-old Liam Luke, who raised him as part of a 4-H project on his family’s Royalton farm.

And secondly, at the risk of sounding insensitive, it will benefit some hungry diners, as Rodney will be the guest of honor at Landers’ Pig Roast Saturday to benefit Camp Happiness, a Lockport Elks project. The event runs 3 to 7 p.m. at the Lockport Elks Lodge, 6791 N. Canal Road, Lockport.

Ultimately, this fundraiser will help make it possible for campers with developmental disabilities to participate in Camp Happiness next June at Camp Kenan in Barker. The week-long day camp costs about $40,000 to operate, but, thanks to people like Landers, who help offset some of the costs, the charge for the campers is only $25.

The day camp gives Niagara County residents aged 12 and older the chance to try archery, play kickball, sing songs around a campfire, even ride in a paddleboat on Lake Ontario – for the very first time in some of their lives.

“It makes them whole,” said Landers, owner of Howell Motors Ford in Lockport. “These are people who usually sit on the sidelines at functions, watching others participate, and now they’re doing these things themselves.”

Landers knows this firsthand because his own son, Tommy, 25, has attended camp four times. He is autistic and legally blind and lives at home in Royalton with his parents, who also include mother, Maureen, as well as his sister, Kelsey. The Landers’ older son, Nick, and his wife, Jessica, and their three children live nearby in Middleport.

Even a casual conversation with Landers points out the importance family – and community – hold for him.

“I just try to jump in, wherever I can, to help,” said Landers, who has been a Lockport Elk for 15 years.

Fellow Lockport Elk Fred Kanehl, who also is director of the 9-year-old Camp Happiness, said, “The Lockport Elks are fortunate to have a member such as Mike, who exemplifies our Elks motto, ‘Elks care, Elks share.’ What he’s doing for Camp Happiness is a tremendous thing. We depend on donations, grants and fundraisers, and our own Niagara County residents, to allow the camp to be successful.”

Landers recently took some time from his busy schedule to chat about family, community and the Elks.

Q: Are you a Niagara County native?

A: I grew up in Gasport and now live in Royalton. Our dealership is 102 years old and has only had two families own it. My dad, Jim, came to work here in 1967 as general manager and became the owner in 1979. I was general manager for many years before my dad retired and I took ownership in 2012.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the pig roast to benefit Camp Happiness?

A: On June 30 of last year, my dad was killed in a car accident. On July 1, Liam Luke asked me to buy his pig at the fair. Luke was with his dad, Jeff, and I just said, ‘Sure, I’ll buy your pig.’ I don’t even eat pork! But he just caught me in that moment – I saw this father and son -- and I had just lost my father and I said, ‘Yes.’

I went to the Elks Club in the next few days and told everyone I had committed to buying this pig and didn’t know what to do with it, but knew I’d do something to benefit Camp Happiness. Initially, I thought we’d have a meat raffle. Then we talked about it and someone said, ‘Why don’t you have a pig roast?’ and now it’s an annual event.

Q: So you’ve partnered with Liam Luke again this year?

A: Yes. He was in a couple of weeks ago with a picture of him with his pig, Rodney, and I keep it on my desk.

Q: Was it pretty successful in its inaugural year?

A: This pig roast is a lot of fun and it raises some nice money for Camp Happiness. We raised about $3,500 last year. We’re hoping for an even better turnout and to raise more money this year.

We’ll have a nice auction with lots of baskets and Mark McKernan, who is also an Elk, puts on an entertaining performance with M Sound. We’ll have 50/50 split raffles on the hour.

We have the pig roast, of course, with side dishes. The tickets are $15 and you can get them here at Howell Motors, the Lockport Elks Lodge, Twin City Elks Lodge, Lockport YMCA, Opportunities Unlimited and Empower.

I invite everyone to come out and have a good time, with some good food and entertainment, for a good cause.

Q: Tell me what it was like for you to see your son, Tommy, participating in activities at Camp Happiness.

A: Just to see the looks on their faces is enough. It’s incredible what this camp does for special needs people. And I don’t know who gets more out of it – the campers or the volunteers there. I am blessed to have a special needs person in my life every day and I see them sharing the happiness they bring with the volunteers at camp.

I have a short video of my son rock-climbing at camp – it’s something I’d never believe.

Q: In what other ways does the club raise money for the camp?

A: I am so proud of our Elks Club, of (camp founder) John Zieziula, Fred (Kanehl) and Judy Brounscheidel, for the work they do for this. If I can do whatever I can to help them financially, I’ll do it as long as I am able. I also work to help find grants for the camp. When the Lockport Elks founded it with a grant from the National Elks Foundation, that was not a forever grant.

We started with 50 campers and last year we had 170. It has grown leaps and bounds. It’s very expensive to run the camp for a week, but we try to keep the costs down for the campers. There are fundraisers all year.

Editors note: Anyone wishing to donate basket auction items for Saturday’s Pig Roast should call Judy Brounscheidel at 795-3807.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.

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