“MID WINTER RENDEZVOUS”       by Joe King       03/21/01


I can hardly believe how fast a year goes by. Seems like just the other day I was writing about the first ever “Mid Winter Rendezvous”, hosted by twin brothers Rick and Randy Boni. The three-day event was held on Valentine’s weekend, last February (see may-june, 2000 issue), in their hometown of Ridgway Pennsylvania, and I was fortunate enough to have been one of the twenty- nine carvers in attendance. Another year has passed, the second “Mid Winter Rendezvous” is now behind us, and it is with great pleasure that I am reporting to you about this. It was one of the most fun weekends of my life.

            I’m going to start out by skipping through some of the messy details like the months of careful planning, and countless hours of preparation. Never mind all of the generous support provided by the community of Ridgway, and the unselfish commitment made by the entire Boni family. Forget about the financial risk and obligations, and never even mention the personal loss of income involved as a direct result of the enormous amount of time it took to get the whole thing off the ground. I’m just going to talk about the fun stuff, hope you don’t mind!

A good many carvers began arriving in Ridgway on Thursday, but the real action didn’t start until Friday. It was ice carving on the county courthouse lawns again, just like last year, and the excitement was palpable. Once again the boni’s had enough ice on hand so that a bunch of wood carvers could turn into ice carvers for a day. The center- piece for this year was another tribute to the “Make A Wish” foundation, and included a huge wishing well, and pond, complete with live fish! It was a rainy, foggy, overcast type of day, with temperatures hovering right around 36 degrees, but this never “dampened” anyone’s enthusiasm a bit.

Friday night found us moving on to the next adventure. Rick Boni had put the word out earlier inviting everyone to bring along their favorite musical instrument, and join in a big jam session. This was like a little spin off rendezvous of musicians, and was held at “Aiello’s Café”, a local restaurant/ tavern that would host the Saturday night dinner as well. There was a great turnout, with folks jamming well into the night, and getting acquainted in quite a different way. The only thing I was disappointed about was how early it broke up, around 1:00 in the morning!

Six hours later we were all gathering at the fairgrounds for the big event, and it’s a good thing we got there early. A cold front had moved in during the night bringing with it low temperatures, and high gusting winds. A good many tents (and carvings) had blown over, and the place was a real mess. It was pretty cold and took a little extra time to get things rolling,  but bit by bit, the magic started creeping in. All of the planning, the hard work, and excitement, had come down to this moment.

The morning melted into an almost surreal atmosphere with chainsaws buzzing everywhere. It was an incredibly stimulating experience from every sense of the word. The wind was howling, the sun was shining, and before too long a huge cloud of creative adrenaline settled in, replacing the cold shivers. It’s like we were all on sensory overload!

The carvers were set up in a huge circle around the fairgrounds, with two big “Boni-Bonfires” in the middle. 61 people register for the event, but only 52 showed up that day. (Only 52!) There were almost as many different carving styles as there were carvers, and I noticed something else really cool. A few of the carvers I talked to earlier seemed intimidated by such a big gathering, and all the “famous carvers” that were there. By mid-day most of that type of reservation had melted away. We were truly all on the same page.  

The day went by so fast, partly because of the weather, one had to keep moving just to survive! The temperature never went above 10 degrees, and a gusting thirty mph wind just gnawed away at you, all day. Once again Uncle Bob, with his loyal and dedicated volunteer staff braved the cold, and kept us in hot food and drinks right up until the very end.  Enduring the extreme frigid temperatures was difficult enough for the lucky carvers who got to move around a little, but to be stuck in one spot all day must have been intense. So thanks again for that you guys.

Walking around through the fairgrounds was exhilarating. There was so much creative energy focused together in one location that it is kind of hard to describe. It’s sort of like Christmas Eve, your birthday, and the first day of a big vacation, all rolled up in one. (This of course is strictly an un-biased chainsaw carver’s perspective!) Very few words were necessary between fellow carvers to realize we all shared a mutual feeling of being caught up in something pretty extraordinary.

 The short of the long here was the overwhelmingly inspirational atmosphere, with a strong spiritual under current. There was plenty of friendly rivalry going on, but no competition. I felt proud to surrounded by all the talented, and generous artists who had converged on one location to give something of them selves. The very nature of a benefit auction brings a whole new perspective to any event, and that was certainly the case here. All of the carvers, and their families, have my deepest personal respect and admiration for making the effort, and donating their time. Bonus kudos for all!

Some of the folks traveled quite a distance to get there, and most notably would be the European carvers. Holger Bear, from Billigheim Germany returned for a second year, as well as Dennis Heath from Steveage England. Rodney Holland from Scotland, and Thierry Parquet from France were attending for the first time. My hat goes off to them all, and their families, especially after hearing accounts about their journey here. It went something like this; drive or bus 2 to 4 hours to get to their airport. Next came a 10 hour flight, (remember, international flights must check in 2 hours early), then another 4 hour drive to Ridgway. Add that altogether, and don’t forget to include the 5 hour time difference. Whew! 

There were several carvers representing Canada, Peter VanAdrichem, (the tallest dude I ever met) was here for the first time. Luke Andrews returned for a second year, and brought along his brothers Mark and Todd. Carvers here from the United States came from the east coast, the north- east, and the mid-west. There was even one old rascal from south Florida. Red Whiteman from Davie Florida held the distinction of being the first person to leave by helicopter. It was a  “Life Flight” of course, but he’s doing OK now, and so next year Red has to make 2 carvings!

The auction was held at 3 o’clock and lasted nearly two hours before they could get through everything, and talk about an exciting auction. Some of the carvers had donated more than one piece, so there must have been almost 70 things to bid on. Most people didn’t hang around too long during the day (due to the frigid temperature), but many came back in time to bid on all the great carvings. Everyone was packed in so close, and It looked like “Wall Street” there for a while! 

Randy Boni made a nice carving for a separate raffle (just like last year), and there was a special children’s auction also. Another new tradition was born this year quite accidentally, “The Shirt”. Someone bought a plain white sweatshirt and donated it for the auction, after all the carvers had signed it. The fellow who bought “The Shirt” has promised to donate it back again for next years auction, and how cool is that?

This year with the help of Doug Redding, (our humble auctioneer), our little rendezvous was able to raise over twelve thousand dollars for the “Make A Wish” foundation, and the “Ridgway YMCA”. That is nothing short of awesome coming from what was to the best of my knowledge, the coldest day of this winter. Congratulations to everyone who supported the auction by making, or bidding on, all the wonderful carvings. It was a fine day to buy a chainsaw sculpture, in spite of the weather.

The rest of the weekend was about as far from anti-climatic as one could hope for. On Saturday night the Boni Family hosted a nice dinner for all the carvers, the workers, and their families. The room was still “buzzing” from all the excitement of the day. Smiles and stories were passed around through chapped lips, and wind-burnt faces. It was about as nice of a gathering as one could imagine. Making new friends, being with old friends, laughing, and oh yes, lot’s of dancing! There was a live rock band, and it sort of gave one that last night on vacation feeling. In a word, sublime.

All too soon the night ended, and once again, six hours later, we were all gathering together, but for the last time. Sunday morning wrapped up the event with breakfast, and a closing ceremony held at the Ridgway Fire Department banquet hall. This was such a nice laid back time, and a good chance to say our last good- byes. Randy and Rick had some nice closing thoughts about the weekend, passed out the coveted rendezvous T-shirts then offered their humble thanks to all of the carvers for coming.

And so now it is my turn to offer humble thanks. Speaking for, and in behalf of all my fellow carvers, we wish to extend a warm heart-felt “thank you” to Wendy & Randy, and to Liz & Rick. Thanks  for letting us hang out with you guys, It was awesome! 









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