Birthday party raised thousands for EFD

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 9/21/23

ELLSWORTH – Melissa Ryden wasn’t looking forward to turning 50. So she decided to do something good with the milestone birthday.

“I was dreading the fact that I was turning …

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Birthday party raised thousands for EFD


ELLSWORTH – Melissa Ryden wasn’t looking forward to turning 50. So she decided to do something good with the milestone birthday.

“I was dreading the fact that I was turning 50,” she said. “How is it even possible I’m that old? It hit me that I needed to ‘give back’ for my birthday, and what better way than to throw a fundraiser and have an event that does good.”

It was easy for her to choose a cause to support. The Ellsworth Fire Department was there for her and her work family from the 715 Steer & Beer (W6087 Highway 10, Ellsworth) when the bar and grill’s kitchen was gutted by fire June 1. The kitchen was a total loss while the bar portion had heavy smoke damage. The business has since been closed.

“The day 715 burned was devastating to my 715 family,” Ryden said. “We sat there helpless while volunteer firefighters spent hours trying to save the building and protect everyone. Through lots of discussions it really hit us they all volunteer. Some firefighters have employers that pay them or have them use vacation time while away from work, but others flat out lose money from their primary jobs.”

Ryden decided her 50th birthday celebration was going to be a fundraiser for EFD, at the site of the 715. But holding a fundraiser at a closed business has its challenges.

“Throw a fundraiser, how hard can it be?” Ryden asked. “How’s the band going to have power? You need lights, how are you going to do that. Beverages? You want cold beverages….oh, a beer truck needs electricity. I will never be able to thank Pierce Pepin enough for partnering with us to make this even happen. Thank you for everything you do for this community!”

The fundraiser held Aug. 25, featured raffles, drawings, food, drinks and live music. In all, Ryden was able to donate $8163.20 to the EFD. Not only did Ryden and her 715 family raise money for a local organization, they had fun being together as well.

“We got to go home, even if it was just for a night,” said Billie Jo Huppert. “It was the best night with the best work family, and great people of our community. To support the reason that any of this still stands. Thank you Ellsworth Fire Department and thank you Melissa for including us in your birthday in the most unselfish possible way.”

Employee Krista Graf said the fundraiser was amazing.

“It was so good to see so many people come support you and our local firefighters! And of course to be back at our favorite restaurant 715,” Graf said. “Even if it was only outside.”

The business, owned by Josh Rhy, employed about 20 people, with four or five full-time. At the time of the fire, he said he planned to rebuild.

“Words can’t really describe how thankful I am for the heroes of that day,” said Huppert. “June 1 will forever be one of the scariest and heartbreaking days of my life.”

Ellsworth Fire Chief Chad Peterson said the donation was a welcome surprise. The money will go toward equipment needs.

“I believe the focus will be on an additional thermal imaging camera,” Peterson said. “These tools help us see through the smoke and monitor fire spread so we can quickly visualize hot spots. They can also be used to visualize heat sources in hazmat and search and rescue operations.”

Ellsworth Fire Department, Melissa Ryden, 715 Steer & Beer, fundraiser