Sunday, May 4 was our last St. Gregory Super Bingo. The committee had started the bingo in the June of 2005. The first several bingos were held at the Moose in Harmony, PA until the new gymnasium was completed at St. Gregory’s School. Those were the days when we worked out all the kinks — calling from a rickety bingo machine and selling strip ticket games that were just too large for the size of the crowd. We had less than half the crowd we needed to break even, but Father Bob was convinced we could make this effort worth our while. He was more than right in the end — we had almost twice the number of players we needed to break even and sold so many strip tickets that some months we had incredible profits. We gave almost a half of million dollars towards the debt for the School and helped pay it off in record time.
Our bingo committee was made up of 25 or so core volunteers. These volunteers committed to working bingo one Sunday every month, plus many of us had other duties as well. The last couple of years, we took off the summer months, because we had a low player attendance, and it gave the workers some summer freedom. Tom and I planned our lives around it — from vacations to family events. Even my family planned events on off-Sundays so that we could make it. While it was a ton of work, incredible friendships were formed — the kind you know will be lifelong. We volunteered with this same group for nine years! We watched their children grow up — graduate high school and college, get engaged and even married. We went through the tough times in our lives together, we encouraged each other other, and we were always there for each other. And we always will be.
I’m thankful for all the memories. I’m thankful to Gert and Drew for never missing a single bingo and being our fearless leaders. They spent countless hours preparing for each month’s bingo — always planning something fun to keep the players engaged and looking forward to our bingo. They spent approximately 750 hours at the bingo hall, plus all their time in preparation, including trips to get bingo supplies, marketing, set-up and tear-down — they probably spent well over 1,000 hours. That breaks down to 25 weeks or half of a year!!! Gert was always looking for some way to reward the players — for she knew without them, our bingo would not be successful. I remember programming a special game on the computer for our 8th anniversary (June 2013) — by adding a new game to the roster. It was so much fun — even though it confused half of our players. We had this fancy bingo machine — the Bingo King 2000 — that had our games pre-programmed. It was an awesome machine that helped eliminate errors — it was also the reason we had a hard time getting new bingo callers! I remember one bingo when the computer was completely blank — the battery back-up went dead and we lost all the games. I was manually entering the games into the computer for three hours before the bingo started by following some antiquated programming manual — now that was pressure! We did a lot of special things for the players — from gift bags for new players to Christmas gifts to free early bird cards for players sporting their Steelers gear.
Oh and that reminds me — regarding the Steelers gear — unfortunately we spent many a Sunday with half of our big TV screens playing the football games. All the bingo players were Steelers’ fans and they all wore their black and gold. We even held special Super Bowl Bingos for Super Bowl Sundays — the years the Steelers were in it. Special thanks to Father Bob for letting us drag his comfy living room furniture into the gymnasium for the Super Bowl parties. I remember Father Bob’s last Super Bingo was a Super Bowl Bingo before he was transferred to another parish in February 2011. Gert plastered photographs of him throughout the entire hall with his white collar colored in Steelers’ gold. We had that picture hanging in the supply cabinet for the remainder of the bingos to remind of us all of why we volunteered for this major fundraising effort in the first place. We missed him more than words can ever express. And still do. In March of 2014, we held our annual (and last) thank you dinner for bingo volunteers. Father Bob attended, now three years removed from our bingo. He spoke very simple words of thank you to the group, saying, “I’m so proud to know you all. You are the very definition of a disciple by the works you do. I can tell you it’s not like that other places — that I have never been in a parish anywhere that has this kind of dedication.” It brought tears to my eyes and reminded us all of his simple, yet powerful messages that build the faith within us.
I’m thankful to Sandy for leading the kitchen crew. She took over the kitchen for me when I missed several bingos due to my surgery. Her crew included Janet, Jean, Linda, Chris, Alice, Mary, Mary Ann, Mike, John-Paul and many others over the years. They always planned something good to eat for a decent price — you could count on a homemade sandwich and donated baked goods. Sandy worked with Gert to get the supplies from the food vendor, including the fantastic soups they featured during the winter months and the hot turkey dinners at Thanksgiving.
Moe managed the insanity of the strip tickets. Tom’s main job, besides set-up and tear-down, was selling the “big games” of strip tickets. Sometimes there were seven or eight different games on the floor — maybe more. They sold like hot cakes and our team sold them as fast as the crowd wanted them. You’d have some players that would drop $20-$30 at a time and others, like my Mom or sister, that would buy just $1 or maybe splurge for two tickets or $2. The most popular “big game”, meaning “big payouts” was Serious Green, followed by the Horse Races. The guys who sold the strips included Drew, Tom, Spencer, Jess, Moe, Tony M., Lindsay, Steven, Eric, Tony D., Denny, Mike, Jim B., Val, Jim C., Bob, Ken, Bria, Don, Scooter and many others. They still laugh about the infamous Cash Cow game — 1,800 tickets to sell to a crowd of 45 people at the Moose in the early days. They couldn’t give them away in the end. That game was so horrific that they never sold it again — even when the crowd was big enough for it!!!
Other popular games included Cherries (Denny’s game), The Dandy Dozen, Vegas Strips, and two-side games like Peanut Butter & Jelly or Cookies & Milk, Play Some Tabs, Lightning Bingo, among others. And then there is Ruth, Moe’s wife. She sold the Dauber board when that game was played, as well as the Lottery Basket raffle. She helped the front table with their set-up and preparation of bingo packets. For the Moe’s, it was a family affair. Their sons Tony and Steven worked many of the bingos selling strip tickets, and even Tony’s fiancé Lindsay joined in the fun along the way.
And then there’s Valerie and Tony whose son, Eric also worked the bingo. And Peggy and Amy Teets who worked the front table and managed the money and payouts throughout the bingo. These were Gert’s right-hand go-to committee members. They counted the money each bingo and managed the overall workings of the bingo, helping Gert where needed. The front table required six people to run effectively. The crowd started lining up at 12:15 and sometimes had 50 people in line at one time. Each player received a bingo packet, could buy extra cards, extra special cards, early birds, Lightning bingo tickets, the magic number and could even buy daubers. They also received their free gifts here. Front table line-up included Gert, Valerie, Peggy, Denny C., Jess and Amy. Sometimes replacements were used as needed, such as myself, Eric, Bria or even Jess’ boyfriend, Ryan. But I was usually setting up the bingo machine and managing the crowd announcements during this time. For many years, Tony managed the bingo machine and crowd announcements and I called the second half of bingo. Later that changed.
It took an amazing amount of volunteers for every single bingo. Other key volunteers included Don and Nancy, Jim and Val, Ken and Bob and their wives, Jim and Joanne and others. Jim and Val head up the church’s Lawn Fete effort — a major fundraiser in July every year, and they give of their time to St. Gregory’s Super Bingo. It’s people like them that we all aspire to be — demonstrating such selfless giving just by their example.
What I’m really thankful for is the silliness every month. There’s always a good laugh somewhere. Tom and Spencer had a way of interacting with the crowd that was genuine and sincere — and the players loved them. I can remember a time when Spencer and Tom gave out the door prizes and literally skipped to each player that won. The crowd was laughing and cheering at them. This duo did everything together — from setting up tables to stacking chairs. Drew has a robust loud laugh and we could recognize it anywhere. The players loved him too. The guys on the floor were always goofing around. Tony D. would try to lighten up the crowd by making jovial comments when he called bingo. If you asked each bingo volunteer, you’d have 25 different answers for their favorite bingo memories. Thinking back over the years, I wouldn’t trade a single thing!
So that brings me to our last bingo. We kicked off our last bingo with a pep talk from Gert before Bingo started. While I was a bit sad that we were finishing our run — I was elated at the same time. During the nine years we ran the bingo, it was very difficult to get additional volunteers — just to give us a break. We had committed to working the bingo until we had paid off the debt — and that had happened six months ago.
We are all looking forward to the next chapter in our lives. The friends we made are friends for life. We thanked Gert and Drew with gag gifts and a special clock that was made by an artist from Bulgaria. The inscription read, “you gave more than your time, you gave your whole heart.” And the card was signed by every volunteer. It was a sincere tribute to the leaders who made it all possible.
Gert had this idea to do a flash mob dance for the crowd to let them know how much bingo meant to us. Bria choreographed the dance and the volunteers practiced a few times before the bingo. The song was perfect. The dance was perfect. The day was perfect. Because We’re Happy.
Always B E L I E V E.