ELKHART — An inaugural Charity Poker Run on the Upper St. Joseph River on Saturday involved about 80 boats and hundreds of participants who joined the fun. 

Poker runs are common on many of the lakes in northern Indiana and southern Michigan, but this was the first one held on the Upper St. Joseph River in Elkhart, according to organizers.

Committee members who put on the event named themselves the “River Rats,” and their first goal was to educate the roughly 600 residents who live on this section of the river on how a poker run is conducted.

Setting up sales booths at local restaurants, organizers sold $5, $10 and $25 “hands.” A person could purchase as many hands as they wished. So, for example, a person who purchased one $10 hand and one $25 hand would be given a receipt showing how many hands they purchased and in what denominations along with a one-gallon resealable bag and a list of clues to help them find the five stops where they could pick up their cards on the day of the event.

On the day of the event, participants traveled by boat to five homes on the river by following the clues, although organizers said finding the homes was not hard because a line of boats was waiting at each stop to collect cards. Five host families each had a theme, and players voted for the best theme: Captain Matt Lowe and his wife Lucinda won for their Tiki Bar stop.

At each stop, participants would receive one playing card for each hand they purchased, so the player in the earlier example would get one $10 card and one $25 card after each of the five stops, and at the end would have two hands of poker. The playing cards were sealed in individual envelopes and opened only by card judges at the final destination. The top three poker hands in each category won prize money.

According to the committee, over 1,000 hands of cards were sold. About 80 boats made the five stops and there were over 160 boats at the final destination where the rock band Shock-Roxey provided entertainment, organizers said. 

River Rat committee member Bruce Shreiner said organizers were overwhelmed by the success of the first Charity Poker Run and plan to make this an annual event.

Funds raised in the event will benefit the Elkhart River Queen and go toward a fireworks show on the river next Fourth of July. The committee will meet next week to tally the proceeds and determine if other donations can be made.

Winners in the $25 category were Tristen Saverns, first place, $1,650; Kellie Shah, second place, $990; and Roger Hull, third place, $660. 

In the $10 category, winners were Ann Britzke, first place, $808; Rich Gawthrop, second place, $485; and Kevin Richards, third place, $322. 

Winners in the $5 category were Jamie Richardson, first place, $396; Tim Meyers, second place, $238; and Rich Gawthrop, third place, $158. 

— Submitted byTom Shoff

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