Elks fund-raiser for stricken member draws a crowd

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Leighton Freeman wasn’t there, but most of the rest of the town seemed to be Saturday night at the Elks Lodge as the Elks held a luau to raise money for their fellow member, who has been stricken by cancer.

Some 350 people turned out for the event, a crowd that some Elks members said was the largest they’d seen in the building in decades.

Freeman, 53, has been a self-employed dump truck driver. He has been diagnosed with cancer of the spine, shoulder and ribs and has undergone an initial round of radiation treatments. The cancer has damaged his spine and he is paralyzed from the waist down, said Hal Hennick, Elks trustee and secretary, who helped organize the event Saturday. Hennick said the chief organizer was Marilyn Taggart.

Hennick said Monday that between donations of change in a barrel and the proceeds from the event, “it could be up to $3,000” raised for Freeman.

Freeman, who is staying in a care center in Corvallis, faces two more radiation treatments and possible chemotheraphy. Doctors have told him he will not walk again, but his wife Sharon, who is a waitress at the Elks Lodge, said her husband “told the doctors he’s walking out of there to get something good to eat.

“He doesn’t whine about it,” she said. “He’s just a good sport.”

Before he was diagnosed with the cancer, Freeman stood 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 320 pounds, Hennick said. He’s lost 160 pounds since then.

Sharon Freeman said she was surprised by the turnout at the luau, which took place after she finished her shift at the lodge.

“When I got off work, I had to run to the store,” she said. “When I got back, I had to park in the RV parking section.”

A line of people waiting to dine on roast pork “with all the fixings” stretched across the main meeting room of the lodge and out the door.

“We used to have crowds like this every Saturday night,” said John Ramey, a 45-year member of the lodge.” I haven’t seen a crowd like this since the late ’60s, when the dams were going in.”

Hennick said he was appreciative for the help offered by local media, particularly KFIR, which helped publicize the event.