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Dec. 14, 2019
10:16 am


Volunteers at the heart of Pirates of Lanier Charity Poker Run

By Pamela A. Keene 
Talk about dedicated and loyal. For the past 11 years, Craig Martin has made the six-hour drive from Orange Park, Fla., to Lake Lanier to help out his high school buddy Dan Gordon with the Pirates of Lanier Poker Run. Five years ago, Martin’s buddy Mike Makauskas decided to come along. 
“It’s funny how you stay in touch with some people,” said Martin as he handed out sealed envelopes with playing cards at Aqualand Marina for the years Pirates of Lanier Poker Run. “And we really enjoy coming up here and visiting with all the other friends we’ve made, being on the water and just having a good time for a good cause.” 
Gordon and his volunteer crew set up on Aqualand’s gas dock on the Saturday of the Poker Run and handed out cards. Gordon and his Florida friends were joined by Fred Jones of Buford and Joe Abruscato of Cumming. The sun peeked in and out of the fluffy white clouds and a sometimes breeze kept the crew relatively cool as they worked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
Closer to shore the team of judges busied themselves with rating sheets and their cell-phone cameras to capture the spirit of the day. Headed by Gordon’s wife Jenny, the team diligently reviewed each boat and crew as it passed by the reviewing area. Her team included Abruscato’s wife Denise, daughters Nicole and Veronica and granddaughter Niah plus brother-in-law Tom Brown and Miranda Simmons. 
So just what do the judges look for? 
“We’re looking for pirates, and the more the better,” said Jenny Gordon. “After that, our main goal is to seek out boats and crew who best embody the spirit and enthusiasm for this children’s charity event. Some people spend weeks decorating their boats. Others wear really creative home-made costumes. Boats have been decorated with skeletons hanging on for dear life, treasure chests bursting at the seams with glittering booty and threatening – but non-functioning -- cannons. 
At Holiday Marina, the card crew included some familiar faces from the early days of the event. Debbie Williams, wife of the late Rea Williams, handed out playing cards with Steve Damus, one of the original members of Lanier Partners. Damus also emceed the Friday night silent auction at the Captain’s meeting. 
“We raised some pretty good money Friday night,” Damus said. “People were very enthusiastic and supportive, as they always are.”
As for Williams, “Rea would have been so proud at this year’s event,” she said. “Everyone was really here for the spirit of the event and very focused on the real reason we do this every year – for the kids.”

Poker Run novices travel from Alabama
Mark and Tammy Echols were Pirates of Lanier Poker Run newbies on Friday afternoon before the 11th annual event at Lanier Islands. But the couple from Alabama didn’t waste any time fitting right in and discovering the assets of Lake Lanier.
“It’s been great so far and this is a beautiful lake,” said Mark right before the Friday night Captain’s Meeting. “The hospitality has been amazing and we’re very impressed with all that’s going on here at Lanier Islands. Everything is right here at your fingertips.”
The couple who lives in Ohatchee, Ala., on Lake Henry Neeley, brought their 30-foot cuddy cabin cruising boat to get their feet wet during their first Lanier Poker Run. “We’ve got a couple of boats, but I brought the one the wife likes because it doesn’t go so fast.” The Echols’ son Colton and daughter Carley brought two friends, so the six of them were planning to enjoy all the festivities of the weekend.
Mark and Jennifer heard about the Pirates of Lanier Poker Run from some neighbors near their beach place. “They told us we’d better come up here and do this fun event,” he said. “We’re all about charities, fundraising and helping people, so it just sounded like a really good idea.”
They took a low-key approach to decorating their boat or wearing costumes. “Since it’s our first time, we’re trying to learn all we can,” he said. “But next year we’ll know more about what to do.” Seems like Mark already had some pretty good insight. “I’ve already bought six poker hands and I’ll probably buy some more.”
When asked what he’d do if they won this year, Mark said, “I guess we’ll be doing a little shopping.”
The Echols didn’t win any booty this year, but they’re not discouraged.
“We just packed up on Sunday and drove back to sweet home Alabama,” Mark said. “But we’ll be back probably in about a month without the boat because we really like it here. We’re already planning to come to next year’s poker run. I think I’ll bring a faster boat next year. And we’re going to bring more friends, too.”

Results next month
The 11th Annual Pirates of Lanier Charity Poker Run took place in mid-July on Lake Lanier, with boaters from across the country. Lakeside on Lanier will report all the details, including the winners of the poker hands and contests, in our September issue. The Pirates of Lanier Poker run benefits Camp Sunshine, Camp Twin Lakes and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier. For information visit

Posted online 7/26/19
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