Chip Minemyer | Community support uplifts local soldier during holidays

The colors of the holidays are red, white and blue for local businesses moved by the powerful story of wounded warrior Adam Hartswick.

Just before Thanksgiving, the region’s new-car dealers banded together to raise $35,000 to support Hartswick’s ongoing medical costs.

The Centre County native lost both legs to an explosion in Afghanistan in May, and has undergone numerous surgeries and rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

A local eatery, Otto’s Pub & Brewery in Patton Township, is adding to the support for Hartswick with a special Christmas program.

Through Dec. 31, visitors to the restaurant off North Atherton Street can purchase ribbons for $5 each. The ribbons are being hung on the establishment’s large Christmas tree, and if 1,000 ribbons are sold, Otto’s will add another $1,000 to the kitty.

Groups, business and individuals across the county have held dinners, raffles and other efforts to help the 2009 State College Area High School graduate. Hartswick’s remarkable and determined recovery has included milestones such as riding in the 4th Fest parade in July and standing on titanium legs to participate in the pregame coin toss at the Nov. 16 Penn State-Purdue football game at Beaver Stadium.

“I really can’t thank them enough,” Hartswick said of the many local organizations and individuals honoring him for his service and sacrifice, and assisting in his recovery. “It’s ridiculous the amount of support I’ve been getting from the community.”

Local car dealer Joel Confer said he got the idea for helping Hartswick at a recent auto auction. Someone was selling raffle tickets for Hartswick. He gave to the cause then, but thought he and his peers could do more.

At a meeting of the Centre County New Car Dealers Assoc., Confer raised the idea of working together for Hartswick. A dinner was held the Friday evening before that Purdue football game, and eight different local dealerships contributed to the $35,000 total.

Confer said participating dealers included his own (Bellefonte and State College), Blaise Alexander (two locations), Dix Honda, J Maggi, Lion Country Kia, State College Ford, State College Motors and Stocker Chevrolet/Subaru.

The gathering was held at the future site of TJ Colts restaurant next to Confer’s dealership on Benner Pike, and restaurant owner Travis Fischer provided the meal at no cost even though his eatery isn’t open for business yet.

“My wife and I planned to pay for the dinner,” Confer said. “But when it came time, the owner told us it would be comp-liments of them.”

John Morris, of State College Ford, said the business folks “admire and respect” Hartswick and were glad to be involved.

“This kid has done more than enough for us and our country,” Morris said. “We wanted to help him and say thanks.”

The staff and management at Otto’s would agree.

Owner Roger Garthwaite said he bought a 20-foot Christmas tree for the pub at a tree farm near Tyrone, and the inspiration for what became “Ribbons For Adam” hit him as he was returning to State College.

“I was driving back and I guess the big guy upstairs talked to me,” Garthwaite said. “And this idea of trimming the tree with red, white and blue ribbons came up.”

Garthwaite and his team know Hartswick and his mother, Morgen Hummel, who often stopped by to eat.

He said Hummel kept the Otto’s crew up to date on Adam’s time at basic training and his deployment to Afghanistan as a combat medic. Then came the news that he was injured by an improvised explosive device while assisting other soldiers.

“We’re all kind of a big family here,” Garthwaite said. “When that happened, it was a tough time for all of us.”

Since the tree went up at Thanksgiving, ribbons have been filling its boughs as friends and patrons reach out to Hartswick.

“If we have so many ribbons that we can’t fit them all on the tree, we’ll start hanging them on the walls,” Garthwaite said. “It’s just a way to help out a guy in the community who is a hero to us.

“He’s still got a long way to go. But we know he’ll get there. He’s an inspiration for all of us.”

“I know a lot of the people who work there,” Hartswick said. “They all banded together to do something, which is awesome.”

Confer said he hopes to engage the community in longer-term support for Hartswick and his family, helping the soldier get a vehicle, and perhaps even a home, equipped for his new realities.

“It’s about his recovery and his life going forward,” Confer said. “If you get a lot of people to participate, it’s not a hard task to do.”

Garthwaite knows the region is not done helping its local hero.

“We tend, as citizens and human beings, to put this stuff as far away from ourselves as possible,” he said. “We’re proud Americans, and we support our troops. But it’s tougher when all of a sudden it’s one of your own.”