HUTSONVILLE, Ill. —
Tiger pride rolled through Hutsonville High School on Friday night, but it was thanks to meatballs being dunked into the baskets.
Hundreds from the community participated in the school’s annual “Max Benefit,” where spaghetti-dinner-anchored fundraising efforts benefit the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point.
In addition to displays explaining the center and its role in caring for large cats, volunteers brought a tiger, Sampson III, from his Hoosier home to the burg in eastern Illinois.
Jason Heimbaugh, a volunteer animal handler at the center, said Sampson III lives with the rest of the 230 cats, but makes for a better traveler than others. Hutsonville High School adopted one of the center’s tigers, Max, when he was just 5 weeks old. Student organizations there have continued to raise funds for his care ever since, a little more than six years. But with Max now too large for a traveling cage, others have come to visit over the years, he explained.
“(Sampson III) is probably 425 to 450 pounds,” he said, estimating his age to be about 15 years.
The tiger arrived at the center in December of 2009. According to information provided by the group, his first owner reportedly purchased him for $300 in a Steak-n-Shake parking lot. That owner eventually placed him in an animal park, where he was mauled by another cat. A volunteer’s leg had to be amputated due to that incident, and the facility was closed, according to the information.
Heimbaugh, who works at the University of Illinois, said he first visited the center several years and fell in love it. He began volunteering his weekends there shortly afterward and has continued ever since.
“I really schedule the rest of my week around the Saturdays,” he said, explaining the 1 1/2 hour drive each way.
Angela Compton, art teacher and sponsor of the school’s art club, said every student there got to touch Max when he was first brought to the school. A timeline of his growth, from 5-week-old cub to present, is painted along one of the high school’s walls, blending in with others concerning the school’s mascot, which happens to be the Hutsonville Tigers.
“It’s a good thing for the students,” she said of the sponsorship.
The annual spaghetti dinners raise about $300 each, she said, adding the student council and other groups help raise money for cedar bedding for the center. All totaled, the 107-student school has been sending about $1,500 a year to the center for the last six years.
Jean Herrberg, assistant director of the center, said the facility features nine different species of animals, with more than 100 felines out for show daily.
The group is a nonprofit corporation which neither sells nor breeds the animals, and provides stable homes for life, complete with veterinary care.
“Labor is probably our biggest expense, then veterinary and building materials,” she said.
The average cost for enclosure suitable for lions and tigers is about $25,000, and one medicine alone which treats parasites is $3,000 a year, according to information provided by the center.
The cats eat about 3,500 pounds of meat per day, but most of that is donated by area farmers, she said.
Mathew Davids, 16, president of the art club, said he likes to work with chalk pastels, and has created images of tigers in the past. The dinners and other fund raisers are a good way to support the community, he said.
“Because it helps the tigers and all the other felines at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, and it’s just a good thing to do,” he said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.