AMBOY – Before we know it Depot Days will return to downtown Amboy.
In preparation, antique cars are getting tuned up and polished, kids are figuratively – maybe literally – creating the list of carnival rides they’ll ask their parents to ride, and 50/50 tickets can be purchased starting July 1 in hopes of winning the grand prize.
“When the 50/50 first started, 31 years ago, I was the one who raised his hand and said, ‘Hey, I’ll do the 50/50’ and here I am 31 years later still involved,” said Jeff Gerdes, Amboy Fire Department Lieutenant, who has been with the AFD for six years. “Back then, Depot Days was a small carnival. There were 10-12 antique car and hotrod enthusiasts that said, ‘Let’s try to put a car show together and see what happens.’ Sure enough, it was a success although it was small. Every year it just keeps growing and growing.
“The first winner of the 50/50 drawing won $750. As the car show grew, the attendance to the weekend grew and we sold more tickets. It’s just snowballed into what we have now.”
Last year’s 50/50 winner took home $105,580.
The largest Depot Days pot was a little over $149,000.
“It is new life money. Over the past, we’ve had winners pay off college debt, pay off or put down a deposit on a new house, buy vehicles, and pay bills,” Gerdes said. “It’s not a $100 pay out; it’s a lot of money. It’s life changing for everyone who wins in some way or another.”
When tickets go on sale July 1, they will be sold for $1 each or $5 for six tickets.
The 50/50 tickets will be available for purchase until Aug. 28, which is the last day of Depot Days.
With half of the money going to the owner of the lucky ticket selected, the other half goes back into the community.
“We keep enough for the upcoming year’s expenses. We’ve been doing it so long now that we have a real good idea of future costs, so we set that money aside for the next year,” Gerdes said. “The remainder goes to local charities and non-profit organizations such as the Honor Flight for our veterans – we’re a big supporter of that – and the Amboy Depot Museum.
“That is really the original idea of the 50/50. It was to help support the museum, keep it open, and pay for bills. It got to the point where we had more than enough money to support the museum, so we donate to local charities and organizations.
“It’s a great thing and we’re able to help a lot of people.”
The 50/50 earnings have also helped churches, food pantries, the Amboy Library, Amboy High School, and the Amboy Junior High.
Actually, the money will go to a good cause or to a good reason anywhere in the community.
“It’s a good feeling and what really keeps us going. It’s an incredible amount of work to put on a show this big and organize the 50/50 drawing,” Gerdes said. “On Sunday of the car show, we have about 20 people working just on 50/50.
“If someone in town becomes ill or wheelchair bound, we will buy the materials, build them a ramp, and do whatever we can to help them become more accessible in their own home. It’s a good feeling and that’s why we continue to do it.”