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Benefit helps raise cash for blacksmith

By Staff | Jan 4, 2013

Nov. 30 was a day that changed the life of Shepherdstown blacksmith Dan Tokar. That particular Friday evening, Jefferson County fire personnel received a report of a fire on Princess St. That fire left The Willow Forge, Tokar’s blacksmith shop, severely damaged.

But as Tokar poignantly puts it, he’s not in mourning.

“I have to make light of it. In the past month I have talked to too many people who act as if I’ve experienced a death. …” he said. “I tend to be more optimistic and say these are more solvable problems.”

Community members gathered Sunday for a benefit at the Shepherdstown Community Club aimed at raising funds for local blacksmith Dan Tokar, whose shop, The Willow Forge, was claimed by a fire in November.

A benefit, held Sunday, served as part of the solution as, according to one of the event’s organizers, Lori Robertson, close to 400 community members mingled in and out of the Shepherdstown Community Club, raising $5,800 to assist Tokar in recovering his loss. Tokar estimates approximately $10,000 in damage – with no insurance to cover the burden.

Tokar hopes to be up and running by April, with a new building located on the same property.

But the three-month undertaking will be no easy feat, he noted, considering the hefty steel and cast iron components comprising the forge, including a 900-pound milling machine.

Robertson, who co-organized the benefit alongside Joanie Blanton, lives about three blocks from Tokar in the close-knit community. She describes him as quietly filing back and forth from his shop to his home, greeting her in passing. Though she knew little of the man who operated his shop, specializing in making hardware, silver work and historical reproductions, Robertson was determined to help out.

“They felt like it was arson that his place burned down,” she said. “Dan’s just a good guy. He doesn’t have a car. He lives in a little cabin and he walks back and forth to work. It’s just lousy what happened to him. That’s the reason we did it.”

The cause of the fire that claimed the two-story wooden building housing Tokar’s forge is still under investigation by the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s office.

“Nobody has told me anything official,” he said. “Four weeks ago they came and took samples, and that’s the last I’ve heard.”

Tokar, growing up in Brownsville, Pa., attained his first business license in Pennsylvania 34 years ago.

“I grew up in a little town south of Pittsburgh. It was not that unusual of a thing. It was an industrial area, …” he said of entering the blacksmith profession. “It would be like asking a farmer why he became a farmer. It’s just what everybody did.”

While the fire threatened Tokar’s livelihood, the 52-year-old possesses a levelheadedness that offers him affirmation in knowing he will land on his feet.

“I tend not to worry about such things. My entire philosophy of life is, if you are useful, people will find you and you will make money,” he said.

“Being in an industry that was already obsolete by the time I started, it’s a niche market,” he said, noting there are only 3,000 professional blacksmiths across the nation – averaging one blacksmith per every 100,000 people. “I’m sure with 100,000 of my share of the population, there will be things to do.”

The benefit, which ran from 5 p.m. to midnight, kicked off with a social hour, followed by a potluck. Musical entertainment included Chelsea McBee, Tabasco Bustelo, Gypsy Ramblers, Scooter and Sofie Scudieri, Handsome Sonic Bongo Band and Sacred Groove.

“It was amazing,” Robertson said of the benefit’s turnout. “It was way more than I expected – I don’t know why, because Dan’s a good guy.”

“The part of it that I saw went pretty well. I’m not the sort of person that stays up late, so I don’t know what they were doing at midnight,” Tokar laughed. “I’m still just kind of amazed at the whole thing.”

Robertson, giving thanks to all of the individuals and sponsors offering aid, said additional monetary donations have been coming in since Sunday’s benefit.

“He’s a local artisan – (a) really talented local blacksmith that is basically having to start all over due to no cause of his own. It’s just a good thing to do. A good humanitarian way to kick off 2013,” Robertson said of making financial contributions to Tokar.

“I’m not quite sure how I’m going to thank everybody. But I want everyone to know that I am grateful,” he said.

Donations can be mailed to Dan Tokar at P.O. Box 1776, Shepherdstown, WV 25443.