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Turning Trivia into Fun and Funds for a Good Cause

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The fire hall in Wyalusing was abuzz on Saturday night as 73 people formed into 15 teams to attend to trivial matters. There was nothing trivial about the cause they were there for—or the $936 they raised for the fire company at the end of an evening in pursuit of trivial knowledge.

Team Trivia came to Wyalusing, compliments of the law firm, Niemiec, Smith & Pellinger, and they were there to do something they have done twice in the past for the volunteer firefighters in Wysox. This time the beneficiary was the Wyalusing Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Senior partner, Frank Niemiec, his wife, Marlene, and partner, Mark Smith, brought the trophies for the two winning teams and the beverages. The fire company supplied the room and some munchies to go with the drinks, none of which were alcoholic, for the five rounds of competition that would take place over some two and a-half hours of friendly competition.

The overall winner, Fun Is Mental, held the lead most of the night. The final question was the opportunity to bet it all for a big finish, but several of the closest pursuers lost out on a chance to catch the leaders' five-round total of 240.

Commissioner Mark Smith's team, appropriately named The Commish, was one of three teams 40 points behind when the final question was posed. Two others were Hannon Hotel and Lights Out Lewis. All three wagered it all and ended up with zilch. Fun Is Mental put 161 points on the line and prevailed, finishing with 401. That allowed the Posse to squeeze into second place with 320 points to claim the second-place trophy.

And what was the deciding question?

Who was the first U.S. President to appear on television?

That's easy, right? Gotta be Harry S. Truman. Maybe Dwight D. Eisenhower? Most teams guessed one or the other—although rumor has it that the Village Idiots, the local favorites, thought it may be Abraham Lincoln.

The answer was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, according to the experts, appeared on the early boob tube when he visited the New York World's Fair in 1939. It was Truman who was the first to be televised from the White House.

Towanda's Bob Benjamin, a true trivia wit, came to the event looking for a team. He ran into Robin Adams, whom he had never met before, and then there was state Rep. Tina Pickett, who decided she wanted to play. The three of them formed Fun Is Mental and took home the top prize.

I just took our answers up front, Pickett offered modestly, though her teammates say she was no slouch during their deliberations.

As for the Posse and their surge to capture second place, their five-person team included a dentist, an attorney and a beef jerky entrepreneur. They were, respectively, Dr. John Haines, Lon Frawley and Pat Sherburne. Rounding out the team were Dr. Haines's wife, Lorraine, and Vicki Wells.

The law firm has sponsored a pair of Team Trivia events to benefit Wysox volunteer firefighters, but Frank commented that the more than 100 people who showed up to participate and help run the event was the most impressive attendance so far.

The Niemiecs have a personal reason for their vast appreciation of volunteer firefighters. It goes back about a decade to a devastating downtown fire in Towanda. In the middle of the blaze was her business, Marlene's Floral & Gifts, six occupied apartments above and an adjoining business in the building owned by the Niemiecs.

The quick response, sacrifices and skills of the volunteers who responded to that blaze which threatened the entire historic downtown remains a vivid memory for both of the Niemiecs. Even though there was significant heat and water damage to their building and her business, Marlene Niemiec feels the firefighters averted a more widespread disaster. A firewall was instrumental in saving their building, they believe, and a hard-wired alarm system alerted occupants of the apartment and everyone got out.

I still remember shooting their hoses over the building in the freezing cold," she said of the volunteer firefighters. "This is something we came up with to try to give something back to them."

Over the years, we've gained a growing appreciation for these volunteers, her husband added. We decided this might be a fun way to help them raise some money."

You couldn't ask for a better committee to organize the event with fire company treasurer, Alice Matson, and President, Tom Miller, who introduced the event and offered thanks on behalf of the fire company. Stepping up with the essentials for the night were Carol Goodman and Kelly Bradley, who came up with most of the provocative questions. The forum relied on a power-point format where participants could see the scoring for their teams, question by question, as the competition advanced. It also provided Niemiec, the emcee, with the ammunition for ongoing patter and some teasing as some teams fell further behind.

Each of the 15 teams was gathered around the room at their own tables so they could put their heads together and come up with an answer with which they could all agree. Teams could have a maximum of six people and at least two, though the smallest team number was three.

The questions ranged from the fairly easy, such as the No. 1 selling Christmas song of all time, which every team got right, to the substance removed in the 1990 cleaning of the Statue of Liberty whose accumulated weight was 600 pounds. Most didn't get that one. The respective answers to those two questions, by the way, were "White Christmas" and gum. For the record, the Village Idiots didn't propose Abraham Lincoln as the first President to appear on television.

"It looks like we will be back to do it again next year," said Niemiec, obviously impressed by the enthusiastic turnout, at the end of the evening's activities.

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