Great River Raffle worthwhile effort

Published 12:42 am Sunday, June 21, 2015

To everyone who expected the Great River Raffle to run on June 27th, I apologize and ask for your patience. I’m going to write the rest of this article from my perspective because I’m the one responsible for pitching the idea of a raffle last summer to others who eventually bought in.

In June of 2014, a good friend of mine showed me a ticket for a raffle in Ellenboro, West Virginia. The prizes were eye-popping and the raffle netted nearly a half-million dollars for its volunteer fire department. When I researched Ellenboro, I learned the town consisted of merely 750 people. Last year was the thirteenth year they hosted their raffle…and it is wildly successful. This raffle, which runs in July, sells out by January or February each year.

I scanned and emailed my friend’s ticket, which listed all the prizes, to others who would eventually become the steering committee for the Great River Raffle. And I included a note that said, “Why can’t we do this?” A few days later, we met and discussed the potential impact a raffle of this magnitude would have on downtown Ironton. Soon afterward, we decided it was worth a shot.

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For the past year, GRR has been a major commitment to its small handful of volunteer advocates. We envisioned it becoming an annual summer draw for the Ironton community, providing citizens with a festive atmosphere with the opportunity to win huge prizes as well as a boost to the local economy. We saw funds generated expediting the restoration of the Ro-Na Theater and making it an attraction in the downtown area that would ultimately benefit and promote business in Ironton.

We went to motorcycle and car shows in Cleveland, Strongsville, and Columbus promoting GRR to everyone who stopped by our booths. We went to Oktoberfest in Columbus and set up at events in Huntington. We travelled as much as we could to promote this raffle and blasted it out on social media so often I had people who genuinely care about me threaten to unfriend me on Facebook if I posted one more thing about GRR.

Local media got involved. iHeart Radio, which operates numerous stations in the tri-state area, promoted GRR over the air waves. The Ironton Tribune, Herald-Dispatch, Portsmouth Daily Times and Bridges Magazine ran features promoting GRR to their readers. The Tribune printed numerous stories that I wrote in attempts to spread information about the raffle to the local public. Brandon Roberts, a former Tribune writer who now writes for The Herald-Dispatch, wrote about GRR extensively in both papers.

A few successful Irontonians joined the cause. John Hannon, an Ironton grad who now directs a successful sales consultation business in Florida, Jim Doyle and Associates, took the time to create a professional video extolling the benefits of GRR to his former home town. Mickey Fisher, creator of the Steven Spielberg produced television drama Extant, posted a YouTube video he shot in front of the Ro-Na Theater telling people about GRR. Scott “Skinny” Williams jumped in and came up fat with his ticket sales. Kenton Jordan sold more tickets individually than anyone I am aware of. Local businesses such as The Pack Horse, Peddler’s Row, and Unger’s Shoes bought in and helped the cause in huge fashion.

Yet, despite all this effort, we still did not reach our “break even” number of 5,500 tickets. Randy Yohe did a great story on WOWK detailing the impact GRR could have on Ironton. But when the video of the story was transferred to Facebook, the description beneath the post contained an error. It was a minor oversight, but it turned into a major talking point for a few who wish to stir up controversy. The description said, “More than 5,000 tickets have already been sold,” which was inaccurate.

The GRR committee has received only a few negative comments since informing the public we have not sold enough tickets to hold the raffle on June 27. We are currently working to gather an exact count of the actual number of tickets sold and will inform everyone soon. Everyone on this committee has regular jobs and families. All of our work on this raffle is conducted in our free time as community volunteers who wish to help the city of Ironton prosper.

We knew prior to launching the raffle that it was a huge undertaking. We also knew the risks to our reputations if we failed. We did fail in the area of promotion and we admit it. To shore up that deficiency, we’ve consulted with Bulldog Media, a marketing group with ideas and contacts none of us would have had access to on our own.

As I noted above, I take personal responsibility for our need to postpone the raffle. Please contact me at the email below if you have any concerns about GRR.

This has been a learning experience, but, at the same time, an educational ride.

Thank you to all who have purchased tickets and understand our need to push the raffle back a few months. Come September, with your continued support, it’s all going to be worth it for the entire community.


Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at