In common with past Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County Steak and Burger Dinner speakers, "Incredible Hulk" star and two-time Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno has overcome some challenges in his life.
Ferrigno will be keynote speaker for the 11th annual Steak and Burger Dinner, 6-8 p.m. Thursday in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center ballroom. But those who don't have tickets may soon burst green with envy. As of midweek about 14 seats were left, said Mike Jones, Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch County executive director.
Besides being a major fund-raiser for the club's programs for at-risk children and teens, the 2016 dinner marks the club's 15th year in operation.
"It is an event that has really grown over the past 10 years and an event that I think a lot of people in the community really look forward to," Jones said. "We've been fortunate to have some very well-known speakers come in and give their stories of challenges they have faced and how they've overcome those challenges, some pretty inspirational stories to expose our children to."
At the Steak and Burger dinner, a child from the Boys and Girls Club is seated at each table with the club's adult donors to share the experience.
"This year of course, Lou Ferrigno, similar to previous stories, had a challenge in early childhood with hearing loss and experienced struggles, as well as bullying going through elementary school, and that experience led him to athletics, primarily to bodybuilding, weightlifting," Jones said.
After winning a Pro Mr. America teen title in 1971, Ferrigno was International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, or IFBB, Mr. America overall winner in 1973 and IFBB Mr. Universe overall winner in 1973 and 1974. He placed in later international competitions, including Mr. Olympia events after a return to the sport in the 1990s.
Ferrigno's powerful physique and bodybuilding fame helped him establish an acting career in television and movies. His starring role in the 1978-82 TV series "The Incredible Hulk" gave him a close association with the comic-book superhero that has continued through movie appearances and voice parts in recent years.
But Ferrigno has also appeared in other roles, sometimes as himself, such as in a recurring part in the 2000-2007 TV series "The King of Queens."
"Every year is a challenge in identifying a speaker that is going to appeal across generations," Jones said.
From a list of six or eight possible speakers this year, he said, Ferrigno fulfilled that wish with an inspiring story and was available at the right time.
Gov. Nathan Deal was last year's Steak and Burger guest speaker. Barbara Dooley and her husband, renowned former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley, spoke in 2014.
But the speaker at the first dinner 10 years ago was Ashley Smith, who survived being held hostage in her home by Brian Nichols after he murdered five people in a rampage that started at the Fulton County courthouse during his trial for rape.
Another speaker with knowledge of adversity was Beth Holloway, whose daughter Natalee disappeared at age 18 during a 2005 visit to Aruba. Another was country singer and former Army Ranger Keni Thomas, who served in the Battle of Mogadishu.
This year's program will forego the usual detailed report on Boys & Girls Club current activities in favor of recognitions marking the club's 15th anniversary, Jones said. Bryan Burke, who has served on the club's board all 15 years, said he expects the community to see results over the next 30 as members go out into the world or stay here as taxpayers and good citizens.
"That's what I see the Boys & Girls Club doing is making productive citizens going forward, giving them the confidence to go get jobs that are not just minimum-wage jobs and encouraging them to go to college and be more," Burke said.
More than 350 kids
The club will see an influx of boys and girls Monday as its afterschool program, in partnership with the Bulloch County Schools, receives its full membership of between 350 to 400 students, Jones said. The afterschool, which provides academic enrichment, had about 125 participants the first month of school, but most are recommended by teachers after the school year begins.
This year's summer program also drew about 350 children most days, with activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math, such as Lego robotics. Summer members were also offered archery instruction in partnership with Georgia Southern University's Shooting Sports Education Center.
For Steak and Burger tickets, as long as any are available, see the website, http://bgcbulloch.org, for pricing options. The actual menu, which varies from year to year, includes steak and chicken.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.