Whether he showed up with his hair dyed in red, white and blue spikes, in some type of native American outfit and had his head shaved after a certain goal was reached, for most of its run Ernie Blankenship was the life of the annual Highland County Society for Children and Adults Radio-Telethon.
Renamed the Ernie Blankenship Radio-Telethon for the benefit of the Highland County Society for Children and Adults following Blankenship’s 2013 death, the 46th annual event will be held March 28 in Hillsboro and Greenfield.
“He was so enthusiastic about it all the time,” Gayle Coss, the society’s current executive secretary, said Monday. “He must have had a bad day like we all do, but if he did you never knew it. He just meant so much to everybody. He’d ring that bell every time they put a knew total up – it was really just Ernie’s telethon.”
The youngest of Blankenship’s three sons, also named Ernie, said his dad worked on the radio-telethon pretty much year around.
“He always said that the night the telethon ended they started planning for the next year,” the younger Blankenship said. “Fortunately, with him being so involved with sports, he used that as things came up throughout the year to talk about (the radio-telethon).
“Certainly, dad always had a soft spot for kids in general, but he took extra special enjoyment in helping kids who couldn’t help themselves.”
The first radio-telethon, held over 24 hours in 1973, raised $1,715. It continued to grow until it raised at least $200,000 in three consecutive years from 2006-08, including a record high of $219,623 in 2007. But the economy crashed following the 2008 radio-telethon and the totals raised started to dwindle. It hit a low of $101,414 in 2015, but rebounded a bit last year by raising $122,000.
“It’s definitely an organization that needs the support of the community members,” Blankenship said Monday in his father’s old office at NCB. “One thing I like a lot about the organization is that it touches everybody in the county. I know dad would like that.”
Funds from the radio-telethon are used by the Society for Children and Adults to help Highland County residents with things like medical expenses due to illness, disease, condition or injuries. It helps children and adults with things like drug prescriptions, diagnostic tests, medical procedures and fuel for travel to out-of-county medical facilities. It also plays for devices for children and adults like ramps to homes, wheelchairs, beds and other similar items.
“The society is totally dependent upon donations to help it perform its mission for Highland County residents,” a news release provided by Coss said. “The administrative costs have averaged less than 10 percent over the years and all of the monies spent benefit Highland County residents. The majority of funds are paid to local medical providers, suppliers and pharmacies.”
Coss said that while the society has not set a specific goal on what it would like to see raised at the radio-telethon this year, she would like to see it top the $4 million mark all-time. In its previous 45 years, the radio-telethon has raised $3.46 million.
A lot of times, Coss said, the people the society helps have found themselves in a situation where where they have to choose between paying their rent or paying for medication. She also said that just about every year someone the society helps says they never thought they would be in a position where they had to ask the society for help.
It would mean more people could be helped, Coss said, if the radio-telethon could raise a little more this year than it has in recent years.
“Our budget is tighter now than it ever has been,” Coss said. “We pretty much spend however much we get each year and we try to limit ourselves $1,000 per person. We can go over that, but it requires board approval first.”
This year’s telethon will be broadcast live from 6-9 p.m. from the NCB main office in Hillsboro on the local community access channel of the Time Warner Cable System, and on WSRW 101.5, WSRW AM 1590 and iHeart radio.
In Greenfield, the event will be broadcast from 6-9 p.m. from the McClain High School Media Room on the local community access channel of Time Warner Cable System along with periodic broadcasts on radio station WVNU FM 97.5.
From 6-8 p.m., Rotarians in Hillsboro will take pledges by telephone or in person for those who come to the bank during the broadcast. Pledges can be made during the telethon by calling 937-393-4246. Checks can be dropped off at any local bank or mailed to the society at P.O. Box 258, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133.
In Hillsboro, the radio-telethon is hosted in alternating years by three banks, but this year it is back at NCB where the late Ernie Blankenship worked for so many years.
“NCB is just a huge part of the community and it means a lot to us since Ernie worked here for so many years and had such a passion for it,” said Heather Cummings, NCB vice president. “We try to do what he would do when we host it. You never know when it could be you that needs help or services.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]