You step inside the crowded hall, waving to those you recognize. You get refreshment and circle the room, sizing up the action at the tables. Competitors wave their tickets, trying to catch the attention of runners in orange shirts who take the tickets and give out numbers, each corresponding to one of the numbers of the big wheel.  Others sell more tickets to the many hopefuls.  You step shoulder to shoulder with the people at the nearest table and take your number, then watch as the wheel—like the wheel of fortune stood on its side—is given a sharp whirl.

The wheel of fortune
Goes spinning around
Will the arrow point my way?
Will this be my day?

(“Wheel of Fortune”, Benjamin and Weiss, 1951)

Wyoming Turkey Raffle
Used tickets litter the floor as competitors vie for fresh .

While it may seem like a scene from Atlantic City or Vegas, this is the high-stakes world of the Wyoming Firefighter’s Association Turkey Raffle. When Kay Starr sang “Wheel of Fortune” in 1952, the raffle had already been a Wyoming tradition for more than 15 years. Today, over 80 years later, the raffle hasn’t changed much from those early days: Wyomingites still gather before each to see friends, enjoy the spectacle, support their firefighters, and take a shot at big prizes.

While the wheel is spinning, spinning, spinning
I’ll not dream of winning fortune or fame
While the wheel is turning, turning, turning
I’ll be yearning, yearning
For love’s precious flame…

(“Wheel of Fortune”, Benjamin and Weiss, 1951)

…Not to mention door prizes and, of course, fresh turkeys.

“When you win the turkey, it’s just so exciting!” says Cheryl Wood, who has attended the raffle since she was a student at Wyoming High in the seventies, and whose son is now a lieutenant with the fire department. “You probably could go buy it for less, but it’s like gold!” And even if you don’t, she says, “The excitement and the energy is so much fun. I get to see older neighbors I don’t see much anymore, and it’s a mix of young and old.”  In fact, Cheryl herself no longer lives in Wyoming, but her family still makes a point of coming out for the raffle.

Each year the WFA sends out over 3,300 flyers to residents who can then pre-order tickets by mail or online at wfatr.org. (If you didn’t receive a flyer, fear not: anyone can enter!) Every dollar spent gets four tickets for the raffle, plus one entry into a drawing for door prizes. These can also be purchased on the night of the raffle itself.  The tickets are then “bet” on numbers that match the wheel; when the wheel is spun, anyone whose number comes up wins a turkey! If you didn’t win, put down a ticket on another number and try again, because the wheel gets spun until all the tickets are used—about 150 to 200 times over the course of two nights. That means the raffle, commonly known as “The Turkey Disposal,” gives away between 180 and 200 fresh turkeys from the Wyoming Meat Market.  Door prizes donated by local businesses vary from year to year but can include gift cards from restaurants, gift baskets, or even flat screen televisions.

Wyoming Ohio Turkey Raffle
The Turkey Raffle raises vital funds for Wyoming Fire & EMS.

Brian Weisbrodt, Chairman of the WFA, says people typically buy 30 to 100 tickets for the Turkey Raffle, a donation of between $25 and $100.  Each year the raffle raises between $6,000 and $7,000.  As their primary fundraiser, that money helps the Wyoming Fire and EMS Department pay for training, community outreach, participation in parades, and scholarships for cadet firefighters. The department responds to more than 700 calls per year, relying on 60 volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and part-time paramedics to provide services to Wyoming and surrounding areas.

Oh, wheel of fortune
I’m hoping somehow
If you ever smile on me
Please let it be now

(“Wheel of Fortune”, Benjamin and Weiss, 1951)

The Turkey Raffle will be held on Friday and Saturday, November 18th and 19th, at the , 1 Worthington Avenue beginning at 7 p.m. each night.  Children are welcome, and adult beverages and soft drinks will be available for purchase. Tickets can be purchased at the event or online at wfatr.org, with discounts available for larger quantities. Winners can pick up their turkeys at the firehouse on Tuesday, November 22.

1 COMMENT

Comments are closed.