South Charlotte

Benefit's because of Buster

Buster Deal was a motorcycle-riding, honky-tonkin' cowboy who loved to drink a cold one while tossing horseshoes in the dirt-pits behind his Buster & Eddie's bar near McConnells.

But what he really loved was helping others and he'll continue that tradition on Labor Day – a year after his death.

“It's hard to think about our Labor Day gathering without Buster; he was the heart and soul of this place,” said his brother Eddie Deal, 48, as he stood by a faded pool table while David Allan Coe sang “Cowboy's Prayer” on the juke box.

“But last year when he died, there was no doubt about doing this benefit again for Hospice because that's what Buster wanted,” Deal said.

And so Buster & Eddie's fourth annual Poker Run, Chicken, Barbecue and Horseshoe Tournament will be Monday come rain or shine.

The proceeds will go toward Hospice & Community Care, a Rock Hill-based group that provides support and nursing visits to 450 terminally ill patients and their families annually in York, Lancaster and Chester counties.

The all-day, black leather, cutoff jeans and T-shirt soiree has raised more than $25,000 over the last three years – last year was the biggest with more than 220 bikers in the Poker Run and 60 horseshoe pitchers raising $16,000.

“It's wonderful what these folks have done in the past to help support us; it reaffirms what we do in this community,” said Jane Armstrong, executive director of Hospice & Community Care. “As a benefit, it's a little unconventional but they have fun, and this money will really go a long ways in helping people who really need it.”

Proceeds will go toward Hospice operations, providing whatever the families and friends need to ease the pain of their terminally ill loved one – an air conditioner, pain medicine, a babysitter or transportation.

The Deal brothers grew up in Rock Hill and worked construction together. Both were big boys, 6-5 and 250 lbs., and Buster Deal was three years older. He started running the bar in 1996, bought it in 2002 and then brought in his younger brother as a co-owner.

Deal was a healthy, robust man until April 2007 when he started having severe stomach pains, losing weight and missing work. He was diagnosed with liver cancer. By the end of the summer, he had weakened considerably and could barely talk above a whisper. Some friends suggested that maybe they should switch the benefit to aid him instead of Hospice.

He wouldn't hear of it.

Deal didn't even want help from Hospice and didn't accept any until after last Labor Day – he died Sept. 13.

Wednesday afternoon, a half-dozen customers sat and stood around the darkly lit, cinder block bar while Lynyrd Skynyrd wailed in the background. They told stories about how bar patrons had raised some money but Deal mostly paid out of his pocket for the funeral of a customer who had been killed when a truck struck the bar. They also tell of a woman with three kids and no health insurance and how he paid nearly $9,000 for her funeral.

Deal' s tradition lives on – the bar has sponsored three other benefits in the last six months.

“From the outside this looks like a rough place, not the kind of joint you'd bring your wife,” joked Steve Liebertz, a truck driver formerly from Upstate New York. “But here in this rinky-dink bar in the middle of nowhere are a bunch of guys with not much money, but we're able to raise some big bucks for a good cause, and that's because of Buster.”