Aug 15, 2008 Herm Card Uncategorized
Split Rock Cafe at the helm while hundreds come together to help Otisco resident and his family fulfill Olympic dream:
On Sept. 20, 2003, high school senior Lopez Lomong led his Tully High School cross country team to victory at the Auburn Invitational Meet, winning by 56 seconds over teammate and fellow Sudanese “Lost Boy” Dominic Luka.
Dan and Teresa Seeley were in the midst of creating their new restaurant and catering business, the Split Rock Caf (c) and Diamond Catering in the Taunton section of Syracuse, but on that same day, they were in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, over 1100 miles from home, hosting a picnic for some 10,000 people.
Nearly five years later, Lomong and Dan and Teresa Seeley, who have never met, are entwined in an incredible story of love for our fellow man.
Lomong’s story is well documented, from the tragedy of his youth in Sudan to his escape to America and the home of Barb and Rob Rogers in Otisco, to qualifying for the 2008 United States’ Olympic team and his election by team captains as the U.S. flag bearer at the opening ceremony in Beijing.
What is less well documented, but equally inspiring, is the tale of Dan and Teresa and a community’s support for one of their own.
The Seeley’s trek to Gander was a response to the people of Gander’s heroic effort to shelter and feed some 6500 airline passengers stranded when their planes were
grounded in Gander following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
In 2002, after reading of Gander’s generosity, the Seeley’s decided that “We should feed this town.” After 18 months of preparation and coordination, they made the 30-hour trip with their huge supply of food and supplies and a small army of volunteers for an eight-day stay and a picnic for some 10,000 people.
“It was,” said Dan, “the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and the most gratifying.”
Having accomplished the massive undertaking, they retu rned to the Split Rock Caf (c), the former Morey’s Cider Mill on Fay Road in Taunton, and resumed creating their new restaurant business.
As they built their business, they frequently found themselves responding to the needs of the community through assisting in a number of fundraisers for worthy causes, but had no idea what lay ahead.
Neither did Lopez Lomong and his American “parents.” Following his championship career in Tully’s highly successful track program, he moved on to Northern Arizona University and a track career that ultimately led him to a place on the U.S. Olympic team in the 1500 meters.
Having eagerly followed his successful quest to become an Olympian, the Tully community turned its attention to the people who had laid the foundation for his success, the Rogers and Tully track coach Jim Paccia and his wife, Cheryl.
The tradition of “Small Town America” is alive and well in Tully, and the people of the close knit village determined that the people so important to Lomong deserved to be in Beijing to watch him compete — not an inexpensive proposition. So, the people of Tully set out to raise the money to send them to China.
Generosity is one thing, and the fundraisers were doing OK, but finding enough money for four travelers was not an easy task. Then, things tool a dramatic turn for the better when Teresa Seeley read the story of Lomong in the Sunday newspaper.
As Dan tells it, “It was our first Sunday off in a very long time. We were just sitting around relaxing when Teresa said to me, ‘we need to help these people.’ I said that I wasn’t sure we could do anything with the short time that we had. She worked on me for about five hours and convinced me.”
“It took about three minutes,” said Teresa. “I just planted the seed, and it grew.”
And how it grew.
They Seeley’s contacted Eilleen Baldassarre who was coordinating the fund raising and offered their services. “We said we’d take care of everything for a fundraising event,” said Dan.
The “everything” for those unfamiliar with such events, means food, tickets, tables and chairs, tents, tableware, door prizes and the people needed to prepare and serve the food and clean up when it was done. There were, of course volunteers and contributions from the Tully community, but the weight of the effort fell on the Seeley’s and the twenty employees of their businesses who volunteered their time and labor for the event.
They also marshaled their friends and family to help, benefiting from the generosity of people like Dick Vadnais of Premier Rental Purchase who donated a 32 inch flat screen television for the silent auction.
“There were no nay-sayers, says Dan. “People just got together and made it happen. We had three or four meetings with the people from Tully and put it all together in about four weeks.
“We felt that if we got 500 people it would be great, and we knew we could handle 650 with what we had. We went there with 475 hot dogs, 400 burgers and 225 pounds of pulled pork. We had 1000 servings of corn on the cob, 9 cases of salad and 5 cases of coleslaw.
The Seeleys’ experience in the business told them that the crowd would probably trickle in slowly following the 5 PM starting time at St. Leo’s Church in Tully. This time, they were wrong.
“At 5:15, it looked like the running of the bulls. People were coming in from the parking lot shoulder to shoulder.
It became clear quite quickly that they were going to be overwhelmed.
“We started with 1200 plates and a thousand forks. By 7:45 we had to get more from St. Leo’s church. We sent our people to Green Hills, Kinney’s and Nice and Easy to get more food. I told them to buy everything they could find.. We pretty much cleaned the stores out.”
The resupply got them through, enabling them to feed everybody. The Seeleys still don’t know exactly how many they fed, but over 1200 is their best, and probably low, estimate.
“It was kitchen adrenaline at its finest. Food professionals live for this, and we got a big shot of it.”
Were their efforts a success? Well, the Rogers and Paccias will be in Beijing on Aug. 15 to watch Lomong run for his adopted country. A German nun will receive a significant donation to assist her in running her refugee camp, and future Tully graduates will likely benefit from a planned scholarship established in the name of Tully graduate and Olympian Lopez Lomong who learned of his selection as flag bearer on the very day of the fundraiser.
And the Seeleys? On the day after I interviewed them during a lull at the Split Rock Caf (c), my wife Dee and I were looking for lunch at the Scottish Games in Liverpool.
We spotted a man in a familiar “Diamond Catering” T-shirt cooking hot dogs for the Ancient Order of Hibernians charitable fraternal organization.
It was Dan Seeley, volunteering his time and talents for charity, because that’s what the Seeleys do.