What started as a Happy Hour lark with 75-cent beers has grown into an event that has raised nearly $325,000 for charitable causes since 2009 amid towers of empty beer cans, live music, raucous merrymaking and even one couple who tied the knot during the chaos — and, remarkably, are still married.
Meet the PBR10K, which involves no running but plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer drinking and generosity. This year’s edition rolls around May 14 at the Shamrock Club, 60 W. Castle Road, on the South Side.
The idea: For $75 per ticket, revelers gather to quaff PBRs toward the grand total of 10,000, all in the name of good works spearheaded by the Parker Lee Foundation, the nonprofit behind the PBR that promotes charitable groups and causes in Greater Columbus.
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In addition to as much of the eponymous beer as attendees feel like drinking, this year’s festivities will also feature a catered food buffet (included with admission), four bands, beer pong (of course) and cornhole. The Shamrock Club’s cash bar will be open for folks who want something other than PBR.
For transportation purposes, designated drivers are given free admission — ask for details at the gate. In addition, Central Ohio Safe Ride will provide 100 $10-off Lyft codes for attendees, who can follow a link sent via Parker Lee Foundation email and posted on the PBR10K Facebook event page to download the discount into their Lyft app (one code per device ).
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Though a move to outdoor venues in recent years has made for a more chill vibe than earlier indoor versions, this event is not, shall we say, a knitting club gathering for its weekly meeting in the basement of the local church. Things can get a little noisy.
Bands play. Empty PBR cans are stacked, sometimes until they reach impressive heights (and then are prone to being knocked down). Partygoers wear suits, hats, pants, etc., covered with the iconic PBR label, and some, like Jen Squires, make custom T-shirts each year for her group of friends who attend.
And, when the 10,000th beer is reached, No. 10,000 is auctioned off with its own special display case. It fetched $2,000 in 2019, which went into the check for charity.
“This thing is a ton of fun,” said Squires, who has made every PBR since it became an official charitable event in 2009. intentionally?’ I always tell them that when it’s ice-cold it tastes better, and once you get past the first couple, it’s fine.”
Squires, 44, makes the 2½-hour drive from her home in Chardon, near Cleveland, each year with her husband, Adam, to spend the weekend with what she calls the “Cle-Bus” contingent — friends from the Cleveland area who reunite with pals who live in Greater Columbus.
“It’s like a reunion for us, we see people we haven’t seen all year and just get together and have a great time,” Squires said.
PLF sponsors other events, such as a chili cookoff, a golf outing that it describes as “an assault on nature” and a film festival. The organization has raised $324,000 in lifetime donations.
Origins of the PBR10K for Parker Lee Foundation
It all began on Feb. 29, 2008, at Gallo’s Tap Room on the Northwest Side, as nothing more than a Friday Happy Hour diversion.
Kim Niswander, co-founder and CEO of Parker Lee and organizer of the PBR, said a group of about 75 “beer-drinking idiots” gathered to knock down 500 PBRs that year “because it was Leap Day, and there was nothing else going on in the dead of winter.”
And why PBR? Simple economics: It was cheap. The Happy Hour price was 75 cents each.
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The initial gathering wasn’t officially organized and there was no charitable goal, Niswander said, but attendees kept throwing in money to cover the tab and, once it was paid, Niswander ended up with an excess of $300.
“We gave it as a tip. It was just a party,” Niswander said.
But it was a party that led to the formation of the Parker Lee Foundation in 2009. The name stems from the middle names of the two PLF co-founders: Josh Parker Adkins, 43, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and Niswander, 54, of Johnstown, whose middle name is Lee.
Given the $300 the group ended up with in 2008, Niswander said the conversation turned to “We could actually raise money and give it to people, all for just drinking beer.”
Turning the PBR into a charitable event
As a result, a more structured and organized event returned to Gallo’s the next year as the PBR1K.
“Given the tip we left last time, we were welcome back at Gallo’s,” Niswander said, laughing. “Josh is an attorney, so he got us set up with the IRS as a charitable organization, and we charged a $10 cover.
“At the end of it, we had a $1,700 check for A Kid Again,” a charity that serves children with life-threatening conditions.
As the event increased its crowd sizes and PBR totals each year, reaching 5K status in 2013, its charitable donations also climbed: $6,500 and $7,000 checks to Short Stop Youth Center in the Short North, and $8,500 to Directions For Youth & Families, which would become a major beneficiary of the PBR as the years progressed.
Columbus-based Directions provides services to underserved kids and families, such as mental health counseling; support for those who have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence, and for children who have had a parent or sibling murdered; programs to combat drug and alcohol abuse; kindergarten reading; and teen parenting classes.
Through the years, the PBR event has managed to balance its mission of helping to serve serious community needs through organizations such Directions, while also making sure there is no shortage of fun for attendees.
For example, the PBR wrote a $10,000 check to Directions in 2013. Held that year at what was then the Three-Legged Mare, an Arena District bar, the PBR5K was going full-blast at the same time that nearby Nationwide Arena was hosting Disney on Ice shows.
Niswander noted that parents walking to the Disney shows with their children “were either horrified or jealous” of the goings-on underneath the large tent set up outside.
The charity’s CEO, Duane Casares, had a memorable introduction to the PBR that year as well.
“My first time as CEO when we received a check from (PLF), I said, ‘Who are these guys?’ I’d never heard of them,” he said.
“So I said, ‘I’m going to go this year and see what this is all about,’ and I talked a buddy into going with me. As a CEO, I go to all kinds of fundraisers, so I’m walking up there in my business-casual attire and there’s this giant tent set up blocking everything, and all this noise and calamity going on inside.
“So we get closer and I’m like, ‘Who set up this tent? It’s in the way. How am I supposed to get into my fundraiser?’ And my buddy says, ‘Look at the sign. It says Parker Lee Foundation. This is your fundraiser.’ My reaction was, ‘It can’t be!’ I had no idea.”
There were more surprises awaiting Casares inside.
“We walk into the middle of this big, rowdy party, and the first thing I see is a giant tower of PBR cans stacked up in a pyramid,” he said. “Almost immediately, these people walk over and knock the whole thing down. I’m thinking, Oh man, there’s gonna be a fight, but everybody was just laughing. And then they started to rebuild it.
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“So that was my introduction to the PBR and the Parker Lee Foundation. I’ve been to a lot of fundraisers, but never one like that. And I’ve been back every year since. You can just put everything aside, let everything go. It’s just a joyful, happy time.”
Casares played — and even rapped — with his son’s band during the 2019 event at Woodland’s Backyard. The band’s name: Hello, My Name Is Duane, which came to be when Casares showed up to band practice after a Directions event while still wearing his nametag.
In 2014, the event made the jump to the PBR10K, where it has remained since.
“We moved into the Park Street bars, and it was such a good time, it just continued to grow,” Niswander said. “We had our first official sellout with 1,200 tickets in 2017. It was wall-to-wall, absolutely packed.”
Donations to Directions For Youth & Families hit $20,000 in 2015, and $25,000 in 2016.
A PBR blissful marriage
In 2018, Jennifer Harris and Mitch Hatcher even got married at the event, which by that time had moved to Pins Mechanical Co. on North 4th Street Downtown. Niswander was the officiant.
“I had married people before, but they were always smaller weddings with just families and some friends,” Niswander said. “I was kind of nervous with this one, because here are, like, 300 people from the PBR who heard there was this wedding going on and they’re all standing around and watching.”
The event moved outdoors for the first time at Woodland’s Backyard near Grandview Heights in 2019, and it raised $27,500 for Directions that year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the PBR rolled on — virtually, of course. But before life came to a halt, tickets had been sold and sponsors had committed. Most didn’t ask for refunds.
“About 75% of the people were like ‘Keep it,'” Niswander said. “It was awesome. Since we had the ticket money, we went ahead and had our usual T-shirts and medals made, and sent those people a thank-you package. And we did a thing on Zoom.”
Despite the disruption of COVID, the event still cut a $25,000 check to Directions in 2020.
A downsized PBR came back in person in the summer of 2021 at the Shamrock Club, where it returns next week and more than 300 30-packs of PBR will roll up inside a large, refrigerated trailer.
Looking forward to next week’s event
Squires, for one, loves the change to outdoor events and their dialed-down atmosphere as compared with the craziness of the earlier indoor era.
“We brought camp chairs and a table (to the 2021 event), and just hung out all day and played euchre,” she said. “Of course, there’s still the bands and the PBR, but it’s more chill and spread out when you’re outside. We really had a good time last year.”
More than 75,000 cans of PBR have met their demise over the lifetime of the event. But away from the revelry, the money raised through the years has made an impact.
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“It’s been great to have Parker Lee as a partner,” Casares said. “They really believe in us and our mission. They have really helped fund our after-school and summer programs.”
“We see a lot of hardcore stuff. We take our services into people’s homes; with us, it’s about outreach. We serve over 5,000 people, mostly aimed at helping kids, but we also work with the whole family.”
Niswander said of Directions, “They’re the ones who are doing stuff, not me. I’m just ordering beer and having a party. They’re the ones who are making people’s lives better. That’s why we do it.
“The first time we wrote them a check for $25,000, it was incredible. I’d never written a check that big in my life. It’s amazing we can do all of this just for getting together and drinking beer.”
Squires echoed that theme.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight that this is a charity event,” she said. “You get to come out and drink as many beers as you want, eat as much pizza as you want, hang out with friends all day. And at the end, it all goes to a great cause, helping kids and people in need. “
If you go
When: 1-7 pm May 14
Where: Shamrock Club, 60 W. Castle Road
Tickets: $75, available through the Parker Lee Foundation website, www.parkerleefoundation.org