Benefit planned for owners of burned Pizza Ranch
EDGERTON -- In the eight years they owned the Edgerton Pizza Ranch, Craig and Connie Vreeman became known for their generosity and involvement in the community.
Now, three weeks after the couple lost their business and livelihood to fire, the community is pulling together to give back to their neighbor and friend.
The Edgerton Chamber of Commerce has organized an appreciation benefit for the Vreemans from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Southwest Christian High School gym. A silent auction will begin at 5 p.m., with a live auction planned for 6:30 p.m. Throughout the evening, attendees can dine on pork on a bun, hot dogs, coleslaw, beans and ice cream for a free-will donation.
"They are so involved in the community," said Betty Huisken, of the Edgerton Chamber of Commerce. "Both of them do so much. They employed 17 people --that's a help to our community; and he's always willing to help with any fundraisers or benefits there."
The Pizza Ranch was more than just a place to eat. The business hosted nearly every kind of meeting and gathering conducted in the community -- and that loss was felt immediately.
"It was handy," Huisken said. "You could have meetings and the food was right there. Everyone has had to find other places for their meetings."
In a small community like Edgerton, there is just one other eating establishment in town -- Tally Ho, a coffee shop that also serves soups, sandwiches and ice cream -- and it isn't open in the evenings.
Little is left of the once thriving Pizza Ranch after fire gutted the building in the early morning hours of Feb. 24.
In addition to the restaurant, an apartment was also destroyed. Its occupant was visiting family in Iowa when the fire occurred.
The Vreemans have yet to get permission to go through the charred remains of the structure and begin the clean-up efforts. Craig said the cause of the fire was determined to be electrical.
As friends rally around the family in support, he said, "It's kind of overwhelming right now."
Brent DuHoux had worked for the Vreemans at the Edgerton Pizza Ranch for the last three years. After the fire, he was offered a full-time job at the Pipestone Pizza Ranch, which is owned by Craig Vreeman's sister-in-law. He said most of the 17 employees at the Edgerton Pizza Ranch were able to find work elsewhere, while some of the high school students were taking time off to concentrate on the spring sports season.
DuHoux organized both the live and silent auctions for Tuesday night's appreciation benefit for the Vreemans. He collected donations from local and area businesses and, as word spread, he was suddenly getting calls from families and individuals in the community wanting to contribute.
As of Friday, more than 40 donated items had been received, and DuHoux knew more would be coming up until Tuesday night.
"It started out just to be small," he said. "There were a whole bunch of ladies interested in donating, so there will be baked goods on the live auction."
Donations range from gift certificates to Edgerton Pizza Ranch sweatshirts and a Samsung Galaxy II tablet.
DuHoux said the appreciation benefit is "just to give them something to hold over in hopes they will rebuild."
"The community needs a restaurant," he added. Like Huisken, DuHoux said the Vreemans have always been the ones to give, whether it was to a charity, a benefit or anything to do with the school.
"Craig was always giving," he said. "He put his heart and soul into the business and the community, and now he has nothing."
Whatever is raised at Tuesday's appreciation benefit "will all go to the Vreemans," he added.
The Vreemans don't know what they will do about the business; they're still working through the tragic loss. Meanwhile, they've been appreciative of all the support.
"The town support has been wonderful," Craig said.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.