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Oliver bar serves up contest to aid veterans

Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com From left, Vietnam veteran Tom Keppers, El Dorado Bar and Grill owner Todd Pfeffer, Vietnam veteran Bob Woods and Douglas County Service Officer Brian Erickson gather for a plaque presentation Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the El Dorado in Oliver.

As the area weathered extreme cold Wednesday, Jan. 30, competition for platters of steak, pork chops and a large rump roast heated up at the El Dorado Bar and Grill. Patrons shelled out a few dollars here, a $5 bill there, sharing comments and laughs with Vietnam veterans Bob Woods and Tom Keppers, who were selling tickets.

"This is the place to come for meat raffles," Douglas County Veterans Service Officer Brian Erickson said.

Woods said the best part of the Wednesday fundraisers is that every cent helps area veterans. The money is split between Douglas County's Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund and the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) in Duluth.

"My philosophy is veterans and community helping each other," Woods said. "If you don't want to be part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

El Dorado owner Todd Pfeffer began hosting meat raffles to raise money for the Matthew Pionk Memorial Park, named for Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk, an Oliver native who was killed while serving in Iraq on Jan. 9, 2008.

When the park upgrades were finished, Pfeffer sought another cause to support. Local veterans steered him toward MACV, which provides transitional housing and emergency assistance to veterans in Duluth.

Now in their eighth year, the El Dorado fundraisers — weekly meat raffles and a fundraiser Pfeffer coordinates for homeless veterans every August — have provided MACV with more than $112,000, according to Program and Outreach Manager Paul Pedersen.

Two years ago, Pfeffer started dividing the funds between MACV and the Douglas County Veterans Service Office. Erickson said the El Dorado has contributed around $10,500 for the county's Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund, which supports local veterans in need. It can be used to pay utilities or provide rent assistance, purchase food, gas, hotel stays, clothes and more.

Support from the El Dorado, the PIGS motorcycle group and other donors allows the county to help veterans while keeping the tax levy low, Erickson said. He presented Pfeffer a plaque for his support Wednesday, but the bar owner was quick to pass on the recognition.

"It's not about me," Pfeffer said. "It's got to be about the veterans."

Members of the Northland Vietnam Veterans or the Leathernecks motorcycle group do the actual raffle work, he said. His daughters host Coach Purse Bingo events to raise money. The staff helps. He wrote a dozen names on a piece of paper, from Tooley, Woody and Not Larry to Bob Gunderson, Mike Hanson and Pat Maloney.

Pfeffer called them his board of directors.

"He will always say it's not about him, and it isn't, but it wouldn't be here without him and the Leathernecks and some of the things that they've done," Pedersen said. "It's his bar, it's his facility, it's his kindness that started it and gave us the opportunity to do this here."

State funds for veterans tend to be targeted south of Douglas County, Erickson said, and it's a reflection of the people in the area that they band together to provide local support.

"Homeless is homeless," regardless of where you live, Pedersen said.

Call 715-395-1331 or email brian.erickson@douglascountywi.org for more information on the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund. Call 218-722-8763 or email ppedersen@mac-v.org for more information on MACV programs.

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