By Ted Waddell
NEVERSINK October 3, 2003 On June 18, 42-year-old George Knox Jr. of Neversink got the devastating news that he had acute lymphatic leukemia, a cancerous disorder of blood-forming tissues in the body.
As his parents, wife Mary and their three children tried to cope with the news, the community started to organize a fund-raising benefit dinner at the local firehouse.
On Wednesday, more than 600 people showed up at the Neversink Fire Department for a spaghetti and meatballs feast.
At times, the line stretched out the front door of the firehouse into the parking lot, as folks came to show their support for a beloved member of the community, a man known for his commitment to friends and family.
When it was all over, a total of more than $7,500 had been raised, all of which will go to the Knox family.
According to Paul Lepke, president of the Neversink Fire Department, the meal cost about $1,000 to put on, all of which was donated by area businesses and the local fire department.
All in all, about 100 volunteers served up 150 pounds of dry pasta, 140 pounds of meatballs, 42 gallons of tomato sauce, five cases of lettuce and a couple of cases of fresh tomatoes.
Topping it off were 60 gallons of vanilla ice cream.
It wasnt all that long ago that everybody heard about it, said Knoxs neighbor, George Dean. We came out here to support him and his family. . . . Its just that kind of community.
George Knox Jr. is a lifelong resident of the close-knit community of Neversink. The former member of the local fire department works in the plumbing department of Eastern Correctional Facility in Napanoch.
During the dinner, his three children (15-year-old Daniel, 16-year-old Jill and George III, a 19-year-old student at SUNY Delhi, who made a special trip down from college to help out) all put their shoulders to the wheel busing tables.
The turnout by the community is fabulous, said Knoxs eldest son, who was recently elected as an assistant director of the historic Grahamsville Fair.
Theyve been so supportive of our family. . . . You couldnt ask for anything more, he added.
Asked how his dad was faring, George Knox III replied, Hed been sick for a while, and they couldnt figure out what was wrong with him. Then they did some tests at Westchester Medical Center, and a couple of days later, they came home and told us he had cancer.
It was a shock, he said. We didnt expect that, and it was very hard at first, but were just thinking of it as a bump in the road. Well get through it.
My dads the best I couldnt ask for anyone better, he added. Hes the kind of dad wholl put on a glove and throw the ball around out in the yard.
George Knox Jr. got home from the hospital on Sunday after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. His brother Greg stepped up to the plate as the bone marrow donor.
And the community has been no less forthcoming.
Mary Feusner started teaching physical education at Tri-Valley Central School in 1979, the year Knox graduated. She had him in class as a senior.
Jill Knox is on the Lady Bears varsity soccer team coached by Feusner.
During the benefit dinner, the soccer team filled up two tables.
Jills our teammate, and we just wanted to come out and lend our support, said Feusner. Were calling this our pasta party for the week.
George Knox Jr.s folks were there helping out, too: his father George was doing yeomans duty in the kitchen making salads, while his mother Rose Ann said, Were dealing with it day to day.
Theres so much support from the community, friends and family that makes it a lot easier. The turnout was totally overwhelming, but thats not surprising for our community.
George is a wonderful family man, respected by his fellow workers and community, she added proudly.
Gary TerBush went to school with his lifelong friend and neighbor before they decided to marry local gals and settle down in their community with deep roots in local history.
He was a terrific athlete and one of the best shortstops ever to come out of Tri-Valley, said TerBush. He raised a terrific family. . . . Hes a fantastic guy.
It just goes to show you that cancer can choose anyone, added TerBush, shaking his head.
Town of Neversink Supervisor Georgianna Lepke spent the evening making the rounds with coffee refills.
As a 16-year-old waiting tables at the Excelsior Lodge, I learned about politics, she quipped. Some people like it hot, some like it cold and some want it medium.
Knoxs children found that out as well enjoying every minute of interacting with a community that cares so much for its own.
Jill Knox is a senior at Tri-Valley, while her younger brother Daniel is a sophomore at their fathers alma mater.
Hes a fun dad, said Jill. He does a lot of athletic things with me and my brothers. . . . Hes a typical dad.
Her reaction to the community turnout?
There are so many people here I cant believe it, for a small community like this, she said.
Daniel summed up a familys experience of dealing with a loved one battling cancer.
Were dealing with it the best we can, he said, before rushing off to serve more platters heaped with steaming hot spaghetti and meatballs.
On Friday, October 3 from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the Sullivan County Chapter of the American Red Cross will hold a community blood drive for George Knox Jr. at Liberty Masonic Lodge #521 F&AM.
The lodge is located at 20 Eagle Drive in Liberty on Route 52 across from the Sullivan County Golf Course.