The sounds of an unusually large group children playing – laughing and shouting to each other – mixed with loud splashes and the roar of boat engines filled the air along the western shore of Lake Norman.
The fun was in full force June 4 when Bob and Linda Hecht hosted more than an estimated 240 children from Catawba and Lincoln counties at their lakefront home in Denver for a picnic, swimming, water-skiiing and boat rides.
A Denver realtor, Hecht started his business, Hecht Realty, in 1971 by selling a lakefront home for $25,000. The property values have increased significantly as his business grew and he began to help local children in need.
In 2007, Hecht, along with his wife Linda and Denver attorney Todd Wulfhorst, decided they wanted to do something special for foster children. Hecht’s five-acre lakefront property would be the perfect location. But they would need volunteers to make it happen.
When they approached the Rotary Club of Denver Lake Norman for help, it soon became a Rotary project. With the help of the Lincoln County Department of Social Services, the group invited the foster children and their families to a picnic lunch, swimming, fishing, boating and water-skiing on the lake.
Hecht said that seeing how much the children enjoyed the first day, “I immediately wanted to make it bigger,” he said. The next year, they invited the Catawba County foster families to join them. As the event grew, the Lincoln County school program, Don’t Foul Out Academy for at-risk children was added along with a group of Montagnard children.
On June 4, hours before the children were to arrive, volunteers were scrambling to make everything ready.
Hecht and Dave Fuller were in the kitchen, making hamburgers, from Hecht’s own recipe, which includes a homemade barbecue sauce, two types of cheeses and salt and pepper.
“Not everyone can be a burger-maker,” said Fuller, pointing out that other volunteers tried and failed.
Hecht said they expected 240 children, probably another 80-100 foster parents and 60 or more Rotary volunteers, making about 400 hungry people for lunch. “We’re cooking 420 burgers, 210 hot dogs and they’ll all be eaten,” he said.
This year they had five ski boats and three pontoon boats for the children and their families to experience fun on the lake. Life jackets were required for children, even those who preferred to stay on shore for fishing and swimming on a small beach.
There were life guards on duty for those who preferred a swimming pool and a giant water slide was also a big draw for the kids. Families spread out towels and chairs on the lawn for resting.
Preston Smith, 14, a freshman at Lincolnton High School in the Don’t Foul Out Academy, said he had enjoyed four previous Day at the Lake invitations. “We come to have fun and fellowship with people,” he said. Adding that he would like to thank the Hechts for “letting us be here and have fun at your house.”
The Hechts have donated their time and money to the cause over the years. Seven of the nine years, Hecht Realty provided the hamburgers, along with secret sauce; with the Rotary picking up the costs of the hot dogs, beans, chips, cookies and drinks. “The club has asked for receipts and to pay me for just the hamburger, and have done that two of the years,” said Hecht.
The Rotary also covers the gasoline for the ski boats with other Rotarians volunteering the use and gas for the pontoon boats.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: