For 10 years, former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel was arguably the most popular man in the state.
From 2001-10, he compiled a 94-22 record, won the 2002 NCAA national championship, six Big Ten titles and was 9-1 against arch-rival Michigan while helping to restore the Buckeyes to college football supremacy.
And two weeks ago, area residents got to see Tressel in action when he spoke at the Parker's Purpose Dinner and Auction at Ole Zim's Wagon Shed in Gibsonburg.
Now the vice president of strategic engagement at the University of Akron, Tressel, 60, spoke for 45 minutes before a crowd that gathered to raise money
“It's really humbling to be here and I'm sure all of you feel the same way,” Tressel told the crowd. “Parker has touched everyone in this building. It's so exciting to see what has been done thus far and to think about the goals that have been set for 2020.”
Tressel alluded to the foundation’s seven-year goal of raising $1-million. Although Tressel was the headline speaker, the real star was Parker Inks, who, at 13, has helped to start a foundation and advance a cause that seeks to help families all across the country.
It started five years ago when Parker, who has muscular dystrophy, was life-flighted to St. Vincent's Medical Center in Toledo because of respiratory problems. Parker's stay lasted 30 days and he nearly lost his life on three occasions.
Fortunately, Parker, a Fremont resident, persevered and is now back to being his normally upbeat, positive self. It was at the insistence of his father, Craig, that Parker understand that he had work left to do, that he must live to inspire others and help make the world a better place.
And so, Parker's Purpose was born. The organization, which has helped donate over $100,000 to families in need since its foundation, has this mission statement, “As individuals of Parker's Purpose, we commit as part of our team to provide the highest level of service to individuals or groups in need. We will perform our service with integrity and respect to all individuals or groups and also hope to foster a positive self-worth and self-esteem to the individual.”
Rossford football coach Todd Drusback, 40, got to know Parker and his family during his time as coach at Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic and became the president of the organization. He said with Tressel on board, the event was a huge success.
“It went really well,” said Drusback, who noted that, before expenses were taken into account, roughly $70,000 was raised during the dinner.
“It was by far the best turnout as far as attendance and money that we made. We've progressed as a foundation and more people are aware of us and of course because Coach Tressel was there. He was fantastic as far as his speech and being accommodating and talking to people. We had over 400 people in there.”
Drusback said the organization is hoping that it take the next step in terms of raising awareness about the cause and increasing donations.
“We're at a crossroads as far as where we are as a foundation,” said Drusback. “We're talking with some philanthropic organizations as far as strategy and what needs to be done to take it to the next step. We're doing different networking things and getting the right people to buy in and support us. There are a lot of great non-profits out there (and) we are talking to those different groups out there. We need different things throughout the year to provide us with that income. We can't do major events like this 3-4 times per year.”
The next fundraising event takes place on September 28 when the Baumann Auto Group hosts its 11th Annual Big Charity Raffle, an event where 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Parker's Purpose.
In addition to Tressel's speech, there was a dinner, auction and presentation put on by the organization.
“We presented a family with a check and we have a slideshow and a memory wreath that details families that we've helped while acknowledging the people who have passed away,” Drusback said. “Kerry Keller's family was there and Kieran Brogan, who passed away from cancer, his grandmother spoke. It's definitely a pretty emotional evening and we want to create. We want people to know where their money is going. We want to put a face behind where the money is going towards.”
Kerry, who passed away at the age of 17 in April of last year, played for Drusback at Rossford before succumbing to cancer. Throughout his ordeal with cancer, Kerry inspired many in Northwest Ohio with his cheerful, upbeat attitude. Drusback’s coaching and Kerry’s legacy helped to rebuild Rossford's football program, one that went from 0-10 to 1-9 to 6-4 in the last three seasons.
“You get one shot at this deal,” Drusback said. “What you put into (life) is what you get out of it. When it's gone, it's gone, you can't get it back. Some get it and envision it and think about their legacy and then some get older and have regrets.”