On Saturday, January 30, The Veterans’ HEAT Factory (VHF) held a fun-filled evening of comedy at the VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill. The purpose was to raise money for its mission to help veterans and first responders who suffer from Post- Traumatic Stress. Approximately 100 people (socially-distanced and masked) turned out to watch local professional magician, Elliott Smith, perform his comedy magic and to view a multi-media presentation of the history of comedy presented by Tony Belmont of the Comedy Hall of Fame Museum. The audience also had an opportunity to bid on a wide selection of gift baskets and other items. 100 percent of the proceeds went to VHF.
Gus Guadagnino, founder and CEO of the Veterans’ HEAT Factory welcomed everyone to the event and spoke about the importance of its mission and how appreciative he is of the community’s support.
“You don’t realize how much of a difference you make. There have been times when we talked about closing down because we aren’t funded by grants or the government. We appreciate people like you that come out and donate money and help us,” Guadagnino stated.
One of the local organizations that Guadagnino gave special recognition to was 100+ Women Who Care of the Nature Coast. This group awarded a grant of more than $7,000 to the Veterans’ HEAT Factory last year. Guadagnino presented an engraved acrylic award to April Johnson, a member of the organization, to thank them for their invaluable help.
Brent Henman, one of the veterans who has been helped by VHF spoke about his gratitude for the organization.
“He [Gus] never gave up on anybody. I’ve been able to talk with counselors at times when I really needed it. I’m here today, by the grace of God and because I was willing to apply myself, and because somebody took the initiative to start a program. I want you to know that I am a life that was changed because of how you [the community] supported the HEAT Factory.”
One of the professional mental health counselors that donate their services free of charge to VHF is Diane Scotland-Coogan, an Assistant Professor at St. Leo University. She addressed the audience about the importance of counseling as a way of dealing with depression, anxiety, and preventing suicide, which is at epidemic proportions among veterans with Post Traumatic Stress.
Elliott Smith, the opening act, has been performing his magic shows all over the world for the past forty years. Two prime ministers of Canada and late-night host Jay Leno are among the people for whom the Canadian-born magician has performed. He has also appeared with celebrities, such as Liberace.
Tony Belmont, a former Marine and Viet Nam veteran has been in show business almost all his life. Upon his return from Viet Nam, the Smithsonian Institute hired Belmont to tour the country to speak to all the living icons of comedy.
“I spoke to almost 325 of them and videotaped them. That led to a wonderful program that’s at the Library of Congress called ’The American Comedy Experience’ and led to a public television show called ‘The Pioneers of Prime Time,’” Belmont stated.
Later he founded the Comedy Hall of Fame and opened up the Comedy Hall of Fame Museum in nearby Holiday. Here there are hundreds of pieces of memorabilia that trace the history of comedy in the United States – from the 1700’s, through vaudeville, the early days of radio and television, up to the present day.
After Smith’s, comedy magic show there was an intermission during which people could bid on the items that had been donated by local businesses, organizations, and individuals. These ranged from big-ticket items, such as original posters of entertainers, to gift baskets and gift certificates. At the end of the show, the highest bidders could claim their items. All told, more than $900 was raised from the auction.
Prior to the main event, “The Comedy Time Tunnel,” Belmont conducted a trivia game, asking members of the audience to answer such questions as ‘Who was ‘The Little Tramp?’ and ‘What comedian was known as ‘Mr. Television?’ The prizes included scratch-off tickets and comedy DVDs.
Then, Belmont narrated excerpts from interviews with people like Red Skelton, Milton Berle, and George Burns. Included in the show was a film clip of the full Abbott and Costello schtick “Who’s on First” that had the audience in stitches.
The Veterans HEAT Factory would like to thank the following for their support for this event: Office Depot – Highway 50, Pickett’s Ace Hardware, Radio Stations WWJB and The Boot, Artist Diane Williams Ziemski, Joseph Lemieux, Doc’s Diner, the Benvengo Family, Jam’s Café, Main Street Eatery, Roslyn Franken, Family Affair Hair Salon, RLP Koda Creations, Zig Zag Scallops, Artist Betty Kaio, Antiques & Accents, The Hernando Sun, Chick- Fil-A, Rotary Club of Spring Hill, Joni Industries, Sarah Nachin, Judi’s Creations, the Comedy Hall of Fame Museum, Radio Station Hits 106 and VFW Post 10209.
For more information on Veterans’ HEAT Factory, call 352-251-7015 or go to www.veteransheatfactory.com