Published Wednesday, November 14, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The life of Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock was celebrated and about $25,000 was raised at the Hunter 87 Bluegrass Bash Saturday at the Newnan Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.
The bash was held to raise money for the Capt. Nicholas Schade Whitlock Foundation, which aims to provide scholarships for students at Newnan High School and Mercer University, and organize hunting trips for combat disabled veterans.
“It’s awesome. It’s really amazing how the community rallied together and came to support this event,” said Katie Wood, Whitlock’s friend and one of the many volunteers who helped in organizing and running the event.
“Nick was an amazing and ... just special person,” Wood said.
“It’s fantastic,” said Whitlock’s uncle, Paul Schade, as he looked at some of the items for the silent auction.
“The community was just incredible,” said Rick Barnes Jr., who came up with the original idea for the event and is vice president of Newnan Affairs for the foundation. “This really is an awesome community. Just the amount of people that jumped on board and helped,” he said.
The foundation was created in honor of Whitlock, 29, who was killed Feb. 18 in an airplane crash in Djibouti, Africa. Whitlock was a U.S. Air Force pilot and a member of the 34th Special Operations Squadron. Whitlock and the three other airmen killed in the plane crash were returning from a mission supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
The event Saturday was a tremendous success. “It went a lot better than we had originally thought it was going to,” Barnes said.
The original intent was to raise enough money to get the $2,500 scholarship started, get some hunts for veterans established, and pay for some foundation expenses.
Instead, “right now it looks like in the neighborhood of around $25,000,” Barnes said Monday. The money was raised through ticket sales, as well as sponsorships and the silent auction.
In addition to the scholarships and the hunts, Barnes said they are considering buying and cooking some Thanksgiving turkeys for veterans or needy families. “We may have some little pet projects we may do in the community. The money is going to go toward good causes.”
Barnes said he came up with the idea of the event late one night in June. “We had been talking about what we were going to do to maybe have an event to get this all started,” he said. “I woke up and said ‘bluegrass and barbecue, everybody likes that.’” So he bounced the idea off some friends and everybody thought it was a good idea. They started making phone calls and planning the event, which on Saturday included plenty of barbecue and beverages, two bands, kids activities and a viewing of the Georgia/Auburn football game.
The event gets its name from Whitlock’s radio call sign — Hunter 87.
“We thought it was a pretty neat call sign. We wanted to use that somehow,” Barnes said. After Whitlock’s death, the Air Force sent his helmet to his family. “And on the back of his helmet was a little patch, with a dragon breathing fire” that said Hunter 87. That patch — the log of the 34th Special Operations Squadron — was used on event T-shirts.
There was a wide variety of items for the silent auction — from small handmade crafts to gift certificates, guitars signed by country music stars Alan Jackson and the Zac Brown band, a fiddle signed by country star Charlie Daniels, and even a red Solo cup signed by country star Toby Keith.
“The support from the community has been overwhelming. It’s unbelievable,” said Whitlock’s aunt, Ame Whitlock. And Whitlock’s friends have “done an incredible job of creating the foundation,” she said.
The foundation will be hosting its first hunt for Purple Heart recipients in December in Alabama, said Whitlock’s brother, James. “We’re going to try to do several events every year,” he said, including various types of hunting and fishing activities.
There’s a therapeutic aspect to the trips. The idea is to concentrate on “what they can still do, not what they can’t do,” James Whitlock said. “It’s therapy outside of a hospital setting.”
Hopes are to make the Hunter 87 Bluegrass Bash an annual event. Organizing it took a lot of work by a lot of people. “I could have never done all of that with just me and James and Matt, who originally came up with the idea,” Barnes said. “A lot of the girls who went to high school with us were absolutely incredible as far as jumping on board, grabbing the reins. This has kind of given us a reason, kind of brought us all together. This weekend felt kind of like we were back in high school again.”
“One of Nick’s biggest attributes was he could make anybody comfortable,” Barnes said. Whitlock “brought so many friend groups together.”
For more information, visit www.whitlockfoundation.com .