Saturday’s “Fighting 4 TJ” Poker Biker Run at the Elks Club in Riverhead was originally supposed to be a fundraiser to help Flanders resident and former Riverhead Fire Department volunteer Tom Jasinski offset the costs associated with his battle against stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.
Instead it became a memorial for Mr. Jasinski who died Sept. 3, a day before the event received approvals from Riverhead Town.
Marianne Katusha, Mr. Jasinski’s fiance, organized the event and she says the money will still be used to pay Mr. Jasinski’s $25,000 in medical bills.
Mr. Jasinski was only diagnosed with cancer in May, and his condition worsened quickly, she said.
“This was supposed to be a surprise,” she said of the fundraiser. “But at the end, I told him, because I wanted to see if I could give him some more incentive to live, but the cancer just ate him up.”
Mr. Jasinski was a 22-year member of the Riverhead Fire Department and a retired Riverhead Central School District security guard. Members of the security department were on hand Saturday to help set up at the fundraiser.
“He was the most courageous man I’ve ever met,” Ms. Katusha said of Mr. Jasinski. “He was my hero. He was the love of my life and the only man I’ve ever loved. This man, knowing he had terminal stage 4 metastatic lung cancer, drove 1,000 miles twice to take all of our belongings to Tennessee, which was the new home I had bought for us.”
“He was a former Riverhead fireman for 22 years and he was at the 1995 wildfires,” Ms. Katusha said. “He was there every single day until those fires were put out. He was ready to roll out for 9/11 (2001) but his company got called back at the last minute.”
Mr. Jasinski was a father of four and grandfather of six. His daughter Jackie Guastella and granddaughter, Kailie Guastella, were on hand Saturday to help with the fundraiser.
The Poker Run started at the Elks Club on East Main Street in Riverhead where motorcycle riders (or car drivers, which was allowed) picked up the first of six cards they would collect. The other cards were at check-in posts at the Boardy Barn in Hampton Bays, The Maples in Manorville, Cliff’s Elbow Room in Jamesport, Meetinghouse Creek Inn in Aquebogue and Diggers in Riverhead. Whoever had the best hand at the end won.
About 40 riders participated, Mr. Katusha said.
In addition to the poker run, where participants paid a $20 entry fee, there also was a 50-50 raffle and a Chinese Auction. More than 50 raffle items and 50 gift cards were donated to the event, Ms. Katusha said.
She said she was disappointed with the turnout for the fundraiser, but acknowledged that it took place at the same time as a number of other big events, including the Maritime Festival in Greenport and a 100th Anniversary Parade for the Eastport Fire Department. She said Saturday was the only day available for the event.
People interested in helping defray Mr. Jasinski’s medical costs can still do so by going to www.giveforward.com/fighting4tjmemorial or by sending donations by mail to Fighting for TJ, at PO Box 562, Riverhead, NY 11901, according to Ms. Katusha.