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Nov. 23, 2017
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Lanier Partners: The people behind the nation’s largest charity poker run

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
Eight years ago, a group of motorcyclists on a charity ride had an idea. Since they were all boaters too, why not come up with an event to raise money on Lake Lanier for children’s charities?
 
Since 2008, the Pirates of Lanier Poker Run has raised several million dollars for charity. From the beginning, Camp Sunshine and Camp Twin Lakes have been recipients of funds raised from the event. Several years ago, the board of Lanier Partners of North Georgia added the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier to the mix. Edmondson-Telford Center in Gainesville has also received funding.
 
“From the beginning, Lanier Partners has always been about supporting children’s charities,” said Barkley Geib, current president of the organization that recently presented $265,000 to Georgia charities. “When it comes right down to it, we’re all about the children. That’s why we’ve added the word ‘Family’ to our name, to make sure that everyone – locals and out-of-towners – knows that they are welcome.”
 
Last year, the group’s mainstay Rea Williams passed away to cancer. He handled much of the behind-the-scenes organizational work for the event since its inception. “We miss Rea every day, but he would want – in fact insist – that we carry on for the kids,” Geib said. “We’ve added some people to our board and are pulling together to make this year’s family poker run the best ever.” 
 
The current 11-member board of Lanier Partners of North Georgia has been at work for the past nine months on this year’s event, which is scheduled for July 20-22. The Thursday night meet and greet will take place at Coastal Breeze restaurant on Lanier Islands Parkway. Friday’s raft-up and floating concert for participants, featuring lunch from Fish Tales and Pig Tales, will be held at the newly named “Pirates Cove,” just across the street from the guard shack at Holiday Marina. 
 
The Captain’s meeting and Friday night festivities will take place at the Lanier Islands amphitheater. Poker Run registrants and those with Land Lubber tickets can enjoy barbecue from Jim N Nick’s, silent and live auctions and musical entertainment by the ever-popular North Georgia Fly Betty Band. 

Saturday’s main event features an “open start” with participants beginning from anywhere on the lake. The six card stops will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., except for the Gainesville Marina stop, which will close at 2 p.m. Four lunch stops are scheduled as well. Participants can play their cards at the Casino Night party on Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Sunset Cove. Awards will be given at 9 p.m. followed by fireworks.
 
In 2016, Lanier Partners initiated another event, The Christmas Boat Parade in December, that raises additional funds for charity.
 
Meet the board 
Want to know who’s behind this popular charitable organization? Here are brief bios about the men and women of Lanier Partners.
 
  • Barkley Geib, president, is an expert in organizing and managing poker runs. As former owner of Lanier Harbor Marina off Buford Dam Road, he ran the successful Lanier Harbor Poker Run for 10 years. It was the world’s largest poker run, attracting boats from across the country. Today, he’s the manager of Sunset Cove Marina at Lanier Islands, joined the board in 2013 and became president of Lanier Partners in late 2016. “I’m here because of Rea Williams, who was a very good friend and the main organizer behind Lanier Partners,” he said. “I started out volunteering with my wife Dee and our daughters Linda Gray and Audrey, and we still manage the Pirate Trailer each year. Rea was such an inspiration to all of us, and we’re carrying on his tradition.
  • Sydney Gordon, vice president, has been involved with Lanier partners in one way or another since the group was founded. From working the docks and helping with catering she’s also been the group’s social media whiz since 2010, keeping a high profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Sydney works as a marketing associate for a firm in Buckhead and her communications experience is an important part of her contribution. She joined the board in 2015 and was named vice president this year, and she’s even more involved than ever in the day-to-day work of Lanier Partners. She’s Dan Gordon’s daughter and Ronnie’s sister (other board members). “Every year we change up the Poker Run a bit to keep it fresh as we grow and expand,” she said. “We’ve never had the exact same event twice. Our goal is to produce the best event for our participants – local and out-of-towners – and raise as much money as we can for kids.”
  • Daniel Ashley of Johns Creek was good friends with Rea Williams for more than a decade and eventually became the secretary of Lanier Partners of North Georgia, handling all the legal and corporate matters for the group. A graduate of the John Marshall School of Law in Atlanta, he’s a practicing attorney. He and partner Beth Davis manage registration and volunteer check-in with Brenda Musone. He joined the board in 2015 and has managed the casino night for the past several years. “This year I’ll also be manning the card stop at Port Royale,” he said. “That’s where Rea always worked; it was his card stop.”
  • Robert Campbell is one of the original Lanier Partners board members among the group of motorcyclists who transformed their connections to charity into Lanier Partners of North Georgia. He owns Heritage Printing in Buford, the company that does all the promotional and printing for the poker run each year. He’s been boating on Lanier for more than 42 years. “My mother died from breast cancer in 2006, so I knew about the importance of giving back,” Robert said. “Lanier Partners gives us a chance to give back.” Robert works card stops each year.
  • Dan Gordon of Buford has served on the board from the beginning. An avid boater who grew up on the water in Orange Park, Fla., he was in that group of riders who brought their hearts and resources to Lanier Partners. His son, and current board member, Ronnie, is a childhood leukemia survivor who attended Camp Sunshine as a kid. There Dan met members of the Red Devils Yaarab Shrine Clowns and his charity work began, donning clown makeup and costumes and visiting Shrine Hospitals and camps. “Camp Sunshine has always been dear to our hearts,” he says of wife Jenny and his family that includes daughter Sydney, another new board member. “When your child comes that close to death, you just want to keep giving back and that’s what we’re doing.”
  • Ronnie Gordon is not new to the poker run. For several years, he’s been the group’s tech guru, developing a mobile app and shooting video and photos of the event. As owner of Gordon Media Services, he donates his time and services to the group. “Since Rea passed away, I’ve taken over the website, managing the database and back-of-the-house operations,” said the graduate of Jacksonville State University in Alabama. He produces the event’s keepsake DVD and is responsible for the nuts and bolts of registration and communications. He continues to be a camp counselor at Camp Sunshine, where he spent time as a camper because of his childhood illness. “Our charities are not picked at random,” he said. “If you ask, you’ll find that each of us have some sort of connection, and it’s truly about the kids.”
  • Dan Schneider of Buford has volunteered with Lanier Partners since the beginning, joining the board in 2011. “My brother Matt is a four-time kidney transplant recipient and he attended Camp Twin Lakes as a camper,” he said. “Now he’s been a counselor for 25 years.” By day, Dan is a national account manager for Michael Foods. His sales experience has positioned him well for his assignment in charge of high-profile sponsorship sales. He and his wife Angie and their teenaged son Jordan have volunteered for six years. It was only natural that he joined the board. An avid boater and fisherman from Coral Springs, Fla., he sums up the philosophy of Lanier Partners and their commitment. “The poker run is all about having a great day on the water and helping some awesome children along the way.” 
  • Brenda Musone of Cumming knows her way around special events. For more than 30 years, she worked in corporate America as event manager for some major players, including the launch of BellSouth.net. She and late husband Ralph were active volunteers at the Lanier Harbor Poker Run, working with Barkley as the event continued to grow. Today, she handles volunteer operations and event check-in for the Pirates of Lanier Family Poker Run, interfacing with nearly 150 volunteers who help make the event run smoothly. She also works with Just People Inc., a new organization in Hall County that works with special needs adults. “I’m am so proud to be on the board,” she said. “I have never met a group of people who tirelessly work to give, give and give or their time and financial resources for the children of Georgia.”
  • Bruce Longmore left corporate America in 2008 to, as he put it, “chase the American dream.” After nearly 20 years in health care technology and sales, he purchased a Lenny’s Subs franchise. The location in Cumming is now the No. 2 Lenny’s in the country. “I’ve always been committed to community service,” he said, “and Lenny’s is a lot about charity work.” He connected with Lanier Partners in 2011 when Lenny’s offered to feed the volunteers. He joined the board in 2013 and today, he and his wife Donna manage the Habersham Point Poker stop and continue to feed the volunteers Lenny’s Subs.
  • Rob Davidson of Pendergrass has been on the board since 2011, but he’s been part of the Poker Run since the beginning, first as a participant then as the captain of the Gainesville Marina card stop. He’s recruited an enthusiastic and committed group of friends who create a fun atmosphere at the event’s farthest card stop. His wife Karen and their teen-aged daughter Lauren volunteer as well. “You know, what just tears at my heart strings is being able to help all these kids,” he says. “And what keeps me coming back is all the volunteers and people around the lake who give freely of their time and financial support to help.” A sales manager in the sports and recreation industry, he’s in charge of all aspects of the silent and live auctions that typically raises nearly one-fourth of the event’s annual funds. “Please get a plug in to let people know that they can contact me to donate items for this years’ Family Poker Run,” he said. So here’s his email: rd@lanierpartners.org
  • Freddy Fonzo, regional director for Zoe’s Kitchen, started out as a participant in the first Poker Run. He grew up boating in Florida and later on Lanier. When he was asked to provide food for the event several years ago, it was a natural response to say yes. “I truly believe in giving back, especially to kids, because it’s an important part of life,” he said. “So many kids need our support because they can’t do for themselves.” This year, Freddy and his wife Melissa will be managing the Lunch and Listen Raft-Up in Pirates’ Cove opposite the guard shack at Holiday Marina.
     
For more information about the Pirates of Lanier Family Poker Run and to register, visit www.lanierpartners.org.

Posted online 5/1/17
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