LINCOLN — Robert Hanes Sr. was always the first volunteer to respond to a fire and rescue alarm and the last to leave after working long hours at a tractor dealership.
He was the go-to guy for parts at Pankonin’s Inc. in Louisville, Neb., and always there to help out his family and community.
“He was our family’s hero,” said Hanes’ youngest son, Josh Hanes. “He made sure that we were a unit together.”
The 51-year-old was driving a Weeping Water Rescue ambulance to Lincoln on June 11 when a pickup truck traveling east on Highway 34 crossed the center line and collided with the westbound ambulance.
Both Hanes and the other driver, William Whitlatch, 24, of Syracuse, Neb., died at the scene. A patient and two EMTs in the ambulance — Melissa Hanes, 30, the daughter of Hanes and his wife, Carol, and James “Beau” Flint, 46 — were injured but have been released from the hospital.
Now the community where Hanes was known as a helper is honoring his memory by establishing an annual poker run and concert series.
Fred Huffman and Steve Hansen, who had been friends with Hanes for more than 30 years, created the Honor and Valor Run: Bob Hanes Memorial, set for Saturday.
The proceeds will go to the families of Robert Hanes and the two EMTs in the ambulance, who are receiving physical therapy, said Josh Hanes.
As a part of the new annual tradition, Huffman said he and the Cass County fire departments have made plans to keep the bank account open to assist firefighters, EMTs or paramedics involved in future accidents.
Country artist Toby Keith has donated an autographed guitar for the benefit, and Daniel Lawrence Whitney, otherwise known as Larry the Cable Guy, has given two backstage tickets for his Nov. 15 show at the Orpheum Theater.
“This fundraiser is to show other counties that we all think of each other as a family,” Huffman said during a recent meeting for the fundraiser. “We’re here to support and take care of each other.”
Good music, food and fun are what Josh Hanes said he expects from the fundraiser, but he’d like those from other communities to come to get a feel for what his father was like.
The event begins at the Weeping Water Community Building at 11 a.m. and is expected to end at 5:30 p.m. at the Cass County Fairgrounds. Entry fees for vehicles in the poker run are $25 per single rider or $35 for two riders. For concert entrance only, the cost will be $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 12 and under.
Josh Hanes said the poker run is open to other vehicles besides motorcycles.
Both family members and the community have focused their attention on the fundraiser, but they haven’t lost sight of who Hanes was.
“At harvest time, if you needed something, then he’d go out and get it for you,” Hansen said. “Not many parts guys will do that.”
At home, Hanes was the father and husband always laughing and ready to grill for Sunday supper.
“He was very giving of himself,” Josh Hanes said. “He was a gentle giant.”
Donations may be made to the Bob Hanes Memorial Poker Run at First Nebraska Bank in Weeping Water.
“This county is going to hugely miss him,” Huffman said. “But we’ve all got each other’s back here in Cass County.”