What began as a small personal “Holiday Tradition” has grown into a civic minded not for profit charitable organization. After the horrific events of September 11, 2001 my girlfriend Sue Heimark and I where taking stock in all the opportunities and blessings in our lives just as many of you did too. We came to an overwhelming appreciation of how blessed we are to live in the USA and for those individuals serving in our Armed Forces that put others lives and freedom ahead of they‘re own needs and desires.
I am the first male in my family not to serve, however from the teachings at an early age from my grandfather Leroy C. Powers a former Marine who served in WWII just what price is paid for “Freedom”. My father Richard G. Dufern who was a former Sailor and my brother Richard L. Dufern a former soldier in the Army both reinforced what my grandfather instilled in me. Sue came from a similar family background of military service, with her uncle John “Jack“ Heimark M.D. who served on the destroyer USS Schroeder during WWII and her father Bruce D. Heimark who at the time of the war was enrolled as a cadet in the Navy to be an aviator.
It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2001 that while at breakfast at an International House of Pancakes with the events from September 11th still fresh in our minds. Sue and I noticed a table with about 15 Sailors from Great Lakes Naval Base enjoying they’re meals. As a way to say “Thank You” we asked their server to please bring us the check. They were all surprised at our act of gratitude, that they came over to say “Thanks” to us. We would just shake our heads and say No, its about what “You” do for us that matters. We decided at that moment we would continue this simple act as our personal “Thanksgiving Tradition” in years to come.
Sue and I where married on August 30, 2002. We kept our “Tradition “ alive at Thanksgiving and would repeat this for several years. In July of 2005 Sue was diagnosed with lung cancer, as a nurse I knew this was a terminal illness and we where in “shock“ by this disturbing news. That year as you could imagine was vary difficult, however we again kept our tradition alive and picked up breakfast for those sailors who happened to be at the IHOP. We also began discussing about how we wish we could do more.
In September 2006 while at dinner at the Clubhouse of Cary at the Cary Country Club we had an idea. We called the manager Joann Miara a friend of ours over to the table and told her of our idea of hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner for 150 of our servicemen. Joann who’s family has a rich military history as well thought it to be a sound idea. She would work on the catering aspects and see what could be done to keep cost down and Sue and I would work on funding and transportation issues. After many calls, e-mails and leg work between the Navy and other parties involved, we met in early October and believed we could pull this together. Thus the Servicemen’s Thanksgiving Fund our “Grassroots” organization was born. We hosted our first annual Thanksgiving Dinner for 150 sailors at the club on November 23, Thanksgiving day.