Members of the late Ernie Blankenship’s family opened the 2021 telethon by presenting donations for the Highland County Society for Children and Adults. Pictured, from left, are emcees Ron Coffey and Rick Williams and Beau, Rita, Erin, Presley and Ryan “Smoke” Blankenship. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Members of the late Ernie Blankenship’s family opened the 2021 telethon by presenting donations for the Highland County Society for Children and Adults. Pictured, from left, are emcees Ron Coffey and Rick Williams and Beau, Rita, Erin, Presley and Ryan “Smoke” Blankenship. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Judge Rocky Coss announced Thursday, July 1 that additional donations received after the 49th annual Ernie Blankenship Radio-Telethon have brought the 2021 total over $92,000.

As of Thursday afternoon, the amount raised is $92,883.50, Coss said, following multiple donations totaling $4,327.50.

“The largest donation was made in memory of Bob and Anne Bagshaw by their family in the amount of $3,000,” Coss said. “Bob and Anne were great supporters of our county and the Radio-Telethon, and we thank their family for continuing that support.”

The 2020 telethon raised over $93,000, but Coss said that the two totals are comparable when considering some of the donations made last year that could not be repeated in 2021.

“In 2020, the total included a one-time donation of $7,500 from a dissolved Greenfield charity and $1,600 from the chili supper, which was not able to be held this year due to COVID-19 orders,” Coss said. “Taking those two amounts into consideration, this year's total was similar to last year’s.” 

Coss added on Thursday that organizers are already looking forward to next year’s event as they celebrate half a century of providing support to Highland County citizens through the Society for Children and Adults.

“2022 will be our 50th, and we expect to have several special recognitions,” he said. “It will be hosted by NCB at the Orpheum.”

The original telethon article follows.

• • •

With a return to in-person activities in what was described as a great atmosphere, the annual Ernie Blankenship Radio-Telethon raised over $88,000 for the Highland County Society for Children and Adults Wednesday, June 23 at the Hillsboro Orpheum.

The telethon, hosted annually by the Hillsboro and Greenfield Rotary Clubs, is in its 49th year. This year’s event included Hillsboro Rotarian Rick Williams and Greenfield Rotarian Ron Coffey serving as emcees. They engaged with the crowd throughout the night, including visiting with volunteers and walking out into the crowd to talk to individuals on camera.

The event is typically held in March, but due to COVID-19, the telethon was postponed until June for a second straight year. Unlike 2020’s virtual event, however, this year’s telethon returned to being open to the community, as it was also broadcast on Facebook, WSRW AM 1590/101.5 FM, WVNU 97.5FM and the Hillsboro Community Access Channel.

The preliminary fundraising total at the conclusion of the telethon was $88,256. As of Thursday morning, that number had increased slightly, to $88,556.

Event organizer Rocky Coss told The Highland County Press Wednesday after the telethon that he anticipated the final total being over $90,000, as there were several additional donations pending as well as individuals who donate after the event.

“Last year's total was $99,800,” Coss said Thursday morning. “However, that total included a one-time donation of $7,500 from a dissolved charity that donated its remaining funds to the event, so the total last year without that was $92,300. We should come close to that when all donations are in.

“We did see an increase in the total number of donors, from 182 last year to 201 this year.”

For those still wishing to contribute, checks payable to HCSCA can be dropped off at any local bank or mailed to the Society at P.O. Box 258, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133. Donations can also be made at

In 2013, the event was named the Ernie Blankenship Radio-Telethon in honor of Blankenship’s long service as emcee and chairman of the Hillsboro Rotary Club committee. In keeping with tradition, members of the Blankenship family opened the 2021 telethon by dropping off donations from their family and from their business, Big Ernie’s Pizza, as the ceremonial first donations of the night.

Ernie Blankenship’s widow, Rita Blankenship, spoke to emcees Rick Williams and Ron Coffey at the start of the program at 7 p.m. The Blankenships’ son, Ryan “Smoke,” and his wife Erin and their children Beau and Presley, were also present, while Mrs. Blankenship noted that other family members contributed by making and sending pizzas as part of the event’s refreshments.

“We’re real proud of this telethon,” Mrs. Blankenship said. “It’s been very near and dear to our hearts, and we like to support it as a family.”

She added that she looks forward to a return to some of the other traditional elements of the telethon, such as local schoolchildren collecting donations and dropping them off, that have been missed in the past two years due to the telethon being held in June.

“It’s not the large amounts you send in, it’s the little amounts that keep us going,” Mrs. Blankenship said.

Representatives from Southern Hills Community Bank, in their first year as hosts, also spoke at the beginning and conclusion of the event. In addition to their support in sponsoring the telethon and securing several of the silent auction items, the bank presented a donation in the amount of $2,500 for the Society.

“Our team has come together, and we just really dug in and got involved right from the beginning,” Southern Hills Community Bank Senior Vice President and COO Lindsay Cloud said. “We’re just grateful for the opportunity.”

Southern Hills Community Bank President and CEO Jeff Cloud thanked Lindsay Cloud and Tim Priest, Senior Vice President, Lending, for their efforts in overseeing the bank’s plans for the telethon.

“They really at the bank put this together for us and worked hard,” he said. “We also want to thank Rocky and the two Rotary Clubs for letting us do this. We appreciate the opportunity to be here and to be the sponsor for this.

“We feel like we always do a lot for communities, and I think this is maybe the biggest event in this county to get to be a part of and to do and help, especially the children we get to help.”

Coffey interviewed poster child Elisha Duncan and her mother, Kim O’Madden, who were also able to attend in person this year after participating virtually during the 2020 event.

Elisha, 9, has Down syndrome, and the Society assisted in the purchase of an iPad with special apps she could use to help with her education as well as speech and occupational therapy. She greeted the crowd with an enthusiastic “Hi, everybody,” as she enjoyed watching herself on camera.

“Thanks so much for this organization,” O’Madden said. “It’s just so helpful for all the families out there that are just having difficulty making ends meet and stuff, with all the different expenses and therapies and things to make them productive individuals to our community.”

Representatives from numerous businesses and community organizations also visited the Orpheum throughout the night to drop off donations.

According to Coss, some of the largest donations included: the Cassner Foundation/Rotary Forms Press, $15,000; Merchants National Bank, $10,850; Hillsboro Rotary Club, $6,000; AmVets Post 61, $5,000; VFW Post 9094, $3,450 and a commitment to make monthly donations the rest of the year; Southern Hills Community Bank, $2,500; NCB, $2,500; Weastec, $2,000; and First State Bank, $1,500.

In-person donors throughout the night Wednesday appearing on camera also included John Barney in memory of his mother Margery and Highland County commissioner Jeff Duncan and his wife, Lydia, as well as representatives from Good News Gathering, Hamilton Insurance, Highland County Republican Club, Highland District Hospital, Highland Masonic Lodge, Knights of Columbus, Southwestern Ohio Toy Collectors Club, VFW Post 9094 and their Ladies’ Auxiliary and Walker Real Estate.

“We couldn’t do it without all the clubs and organizations and financial institutions,” Coffey said. “No gift is too small. If you don’t have financial wherewithal, there might be other ways you can help. Donate your time. Let’s all do what we can to take of our neighbors here in Highland County.”

Numerous donations were also made virtually, by phone, by mail, at local banks or dropped off at the Orpheum, as Rotarian Doug Karnes updated the board and helped read pledge cards.

Late in the telethon, Richard Vanzant — who said he is nearing his 50-year anniversary as a Rotarian — presented the aforementioned donation on behalf of Rotary Forms Press and the Cassner Foundation totaling $15,000.

“Over the 49 years, the Cassner Foundation is by far the largest supporter of this radio-telethon,” Coss said. “Richard was a president of Rotary and a Rotarian for many years. He keeps coming back every year and helping us with getting the names put on the board to recognize people, but the Cassner Foundation and the folks out there, we just really appreciate what they’ve done.

“I estimate that they’ve probably contributed a half a million dollars, at least, and possibly more.”

Merchants National Bank was the second-largest donor of the night, with $10,850 in contributions to the society. Bertha Hamilton said that the bank’s donations included $100 in memory of Emerson Babington; $250 in memory of Hazel Fordyce, a longtime bank employee; $500 from the Greenfield bank; $3,000 from the main office employees; and $7,000 from the Merchants National Bank directors, officers and staff.

“We really appreciate what the society does for the community, and it’s great that all the money stays local,” Hamilton said.

Hillsboro Rotary Club president Darrell Wilson presented a $6,000 donation from the club, as other Rotarians — including Jenny Hilterbran of Classic Real Estate and Keith Chambers, owner of several area Dairy Queen restaurants — also chatted with the emcees and shared donations.

Hillsboro Rotary Club also held a gun raffle as an additional fundraiser, with support from the Old Trading Post in Belfast. Wayne Bowman of Wilmington Savings Bank coordinated the raffle drawing Wednesday, as he also collected tips running a beverage cart downstairs at the Orpheum for additional donations during the telethon.

In addition to the present-day organizers contributing to the event, Williams announced a donation on behalf of one of the original founders of the telethon, Bob Hodson, and his wife, Dorothy. According to Hodson, the original radio-telethon ran in the bank lobby for a full 24 hours, with the Hillsboro Rotary Club volunteering even at the original event.

“He always supports things in the community,” Williams said of Hodson. “I got a little letter, and I’m not going to read the letter, thanking everybody for their support. It goes back to the first [telethon], which was at the old Hillsboro Bank & Savings back many years ago.

“Tom Archibald, Bob and Ernie and all of them were involved in that. Bob never forgets anybody, and I have a check here from $1,000 from the Hodson family.”

“Bob and Dorothy are so sweet and nice and generous and supportive,” Coffey added. “They’re such great people.”

At 8:45 p.m., the silent auction ended, with the following items won: a three-night stay at Kiefers’ Smoky Mountain Hideaway in Gatlinburg, Tenn. and gift basket purchased by Phil and Kati Burwinkel for $1,200; a Ryan Day autographed OSU football, purchased by Tip Long for $1,000; autographed photos of Archie Griffin, Jerry Lucas & Jack Nicklaus, purchased by Rocky and Gayle Coss for $800; a one-year YMCA membership, purchased by Tammy Wells for $350; a Tony Perez autographed baseball and Johnny Bench autographed photo, each purchased by Keith Chambers for $225; Chicago concert tickets, purchased by Laura Salome for $150; Beach Boys concert tickets, purchased by David Mayer for $100; Jason Aldean concert tickets, purchased by Robert Moots for $100; African Wildlife Safari Family passes, purchased by Patty Reinholz for $75; a Geno Atkins autographed Bengals hat, purchased by Mayer for $60; and a Sam Hubbard autographed Bengals pennant, purchased by Coffey for $50.

After the auction winners were announced, Jeff and Lindsay Cloud and a second group of representatives from Southern Hills Community Bank returned at the end of the event.

“On behalf of the Rotary Clubs, we want to thank you guys for sponsoring this,” Williams told them. “We’re happy to see you in Hillsboro.

“It’s not a competition. All the banks are involved in this program, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Jeff Cloud agreed, saying that area banks “have always been cooperative” in their support of the annual telethon.

“This has been such a great event and great program,” he said.

“It’s been a great radio-telethon,” Coffey added. “Thanks to Southern Hills Community Bank. You did a great job of hosting, and what a great venue this is and how organized it is. Thanks to you guys, and thanks to Rocky and Rick all the people behind the scenes who are making this happen. This is no easy undertaking.”

Coss also thanked the emcees as the broadcast ended.

“Thank you guys again for doing the heavy work here this evening and keeping things rolling,” he said. “We appreciate it.

“Every dollar that we get we appreciate very much, and it goes to help people in Highland County. We look forward to next year, the last Wednesday in March, having an even bigger and better event.”

After the telethon, Coss said that he was “really pleased” with this year’s turnout and participation.

“Last year, even though we had it here [at the Orpheum], with it being virtual it wasn’t quite the same atmosphere,” he said. “I think tonight was great. It was very festive.”

On behalf of the Rotary Clubs, Coss thanked the bank for their “excellent job as a first-year host,” along with the numerous bank employees volunteering at the event, serving food and assisting in plans for the telethon. He also thanked Hillsboro Orpheum owner Dale Martin for donating the facility for a second straight year, as it is planned to be the “permanent home” for the annual telethon.

“Southern Hills Community Bank did a great job hosting,” Coss said. “We had plenty of food, and people had a really great time.

“Dale Martin donating the use of the Orpheum was just a tremendous thing. He’s provided this community with a great asset and a great venue. We’re just pleased this is going to be our permanent home.”

Also among those thanked were James Scott, Greystone Systems, Terry Mikkelsen and his Tech-T Productions crew, the Hillsboro and Greenfield Rotarians and all of the other volunteers who helped during the telethon.

“Next year, we do anticipate — barring any unforeseen developments — being back on schedule on the last Wednesday in March,” Coss said. “Ernie always loved to have the kids involved, and we want to get them back involved next year. We’ll get in touch with the schools this fall and ask them to get it on their calendars for next year.”