The 2023 edition of the Lebanon Area Fair may be over, but the goodwill generated from one event will benefit a local charity for the foreseeable future. 

The Lebanon County 4-H Dairy Beef Club sold a steer that raised $28,000, with the proceeds being donated to the Lebanon Rescue Mission. Susan Blouch, the mission’s executive director, said her heart swelled as the bidding quickly rose in a matter of minutes. 

“This was a tremendous act of generosity and really an act of love,” said Blouch about the donation to the mission. 

An added bonus is the charity will get the meat once the animal is processed by Hi-Way Meat Market of Womelsdorf, which is offering that service gratis to the mission. 

“In addition to all of the money it raised, we will get between 400 to 500 pounds of beef,” said Blouch. “Let me tell you that in the 15 years that I’ve been with the rescue mission, that is unprecedented. Getting beef is very rare for us, and very seldom do we get anything in that total amount of beef.”

The double generosity of the farming community still has a grin firmly planted on Blouch’s face that she says goes from ear to ear — especially considering the timing of the donation.

“Very, very generous, overwhelmingly generous,” said Blouch. “Summer is a rough time for us. Donations drop way off, and cash flow gets choppy, so for them to raise that kind of money in the summer, and then we have the promise of the beef coming later in the year, is just a level of generosity that’s really quite humbling.” 

Blouch said she was flabbergasted by how quickly the bidding rose, adding she lost track of it as it went up. When the dust settled, The Wenger Foundation, headed by Margaret Wenger, along with several other businesses, was the collective top bidder at $21,000. 

However, something that surprised Blouch happened next. 

“They were joking with Margaret — who was one of the group members that raised the bid — and she said, ‘Why don’t you sell it again?’ And they did, they opened the auction back up,” said Blouch. “Don’t quote me on the numbers because, at that point, my head was spinning. It had gone up so high so fast that I couldn’t keep up with the number they were at.”

The idea for the benefit auction was the brainchild of Duane Nolt, owner of K & K Feeds LLC, Richland. 

Nolt said three core interests bought the steer for $21,000, adding it was Margaret Wenger, as foundation representative, who offered the steer for resale. (The Wenger Foundation’s website says the organization is built on faith, family, farming, and community and was founded by Carl Wenger, who opened Wengers of Myerstown Farm Machinery and Tractor Parts in 1947.)

“The second buyer was a group of 4-H families and local businesses, which I would say consisted of about 10 businesses,” said Nolt, who added those businesses and individuals wish to remain anonymous. “After that sale, Glenn Wenger, the auctioneer, asked if anyone would be willing to give $200 bids, and we can add that onto the final total. Through that, we got another $2,000, and that is how we got to $28,000.” 

Nolt said he witnessed other fairs having benefit auctions and believed it was time for Lebanon’s to follow suit, given the 4-H’s motto to “make the best better.” 

“As part of being in the feed business, I support a lot of 4-H clubs, and I get to different fairs, and I saw them doing a give-back-to-the-community kind of project,” said Nolt, “and I knew we needed to do this in Lebanon County. We do other community service-based projects with our 4-H clubs, but none are animal-based. My vision for what we need to teach the kids in our clubs is to give back to the community. The community has given so much to 4-H, and the kids need to give back to the community because they are very supportive of our sales.” 

Duane Nolt announces details about the charity auction held during the Lebanon Area Fair. (Tim McGowan Studio)

Raised by his son, Caleb, and daughter, Aubrey, Nolt said the steer was fed by a local feed company that donated the food. When asked if that donor was his company, Nolt laughed and declined to answer, adding this project was not about him nor his business. 

Far left, Duane Nolt of K & K Feeds, Richland, and a 4-H club leader, along with (middle) Susan Blouch, executive director of Lebanon Rescue Mission. The charity is the beneficiary of the benefit auction of the dairy beef steer at the Lebanon Area Fair. Also pictured is Caleb Nolt, Duane’s son, who, along with his sister, Aubrey, were the caretakers of the Angus Holstein crossbred steer. (Tim McGowan Studio)

He preferred, instead, to highlight how the mission will be able to expand its menu. 

“They don’t get beef donated to the mission. They get turkey, chicken, and venison,” said Nolt. “They were elated to hear that they were going to get some beef.” 

Blouch said the steer will be made into hamburger so that it can be used in a variety of dishes, soups, and sauces. She added that the mission serves approximately 50,000 meals on an annual basis. 

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“Our food services director requested hamburger because that way we can stretch its use,” said Blouch. “There are so many meals that can be made, and we’ll be able to use it well into next year.” 

Blouch said the mission serves, on average, between 40 to 45 men a night at the men’s campus. When Agape and the mission’s graduate housing are at capacity, about another 35 individuals receive mission services. She said while food services are only provided on the men’s campus, perishable and non-perishable items are given to those female clients and their children who are housed at its other facilities. 

“Our entire Lebanon County community is extraordinarily generous to us as we do get meat donations from other folks,” said Blouch, “but 400 to 500 pounds at once is extraordinary and is gratefully and deeply appreciated.”

An interesting aspect of the sale was the steer sold at a value that was 28 times its market price. Because of that higher value, Nolt believes the nearly 50 dairy beef club members and other 4-H club members in attendance at the sale learned a valuable lesson. 

“Most people thought it was going to bring $2,000 to $3,000, so I feel they were awestruck by the generosity of the community,” said Nolt. “Not only did they learn a valuable lesson about community support, but they (dairy beef club members) will also have a chance to learn more (about community service) in January or February when they go to the mission to serve a meal.” 

As far as this year’s sale, it is just a warm-up of more good things to come in the Lebanon Valley. While no conversations have happened so far, Nolt does have another charitable idea in mind for next year’s fair. 

“We’ll look to select another sponsor and other businesses and a ministry to connect with,” said Nolt, “because we couldn’t have done this without everyone’s support.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...