CHEYENNE – $1.9 million raised. Ten years of effort. Countless people helped.
One man to thank.
Bryan “Alf” Grzegorczyk, the creator and driving force behind the wildly successful charity fundraising event called Thankful Thursday, has helped change the lives of multitudes of Cheyenne community members.
Now Grzegorczyk has been selected as the recipient of this year’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle Community Spirit Award, thanks to his work with Thankful Thursday.
His ideas and tireless efforts since 2009 have raised more than $1.9 million for charities such as Special Olympics Wyoming, St. Joseph’s Food Pantry and Capitol City Canine Search and Rescue.
“People say, ‘It’s so good what you do for the community,’” Grzegorczyk said. “It’s not really me. This whole community is just so giving. It takes a whole community to make this thing happen.”
Each of the Thankful Thursday events raises money for a different charity organization. Members of the charity gather live-auction items to sell at the weekly event at AmVets Post 10 on East Lincolnway. Grzegorczyk lines up the venue, finds sponsors and organizes the volunteers who set up the facility for the event’s evening of entertainment.
While the main show is the auction, the party atmosphere of Thankful Thursday includes food and beverages, raffles, prizes and a good time for everyone who attends.
Dallas Tyrrell, who was one of several people who nominated Grzegorczyk for the Community Spirit Award, said he has been impressed with the enthusiasm Grzegorczyk has for the project. Tyrrell said part of what makes Thankful Thursday so great – in addition to how many people have been helped because of it – is how much fun people have while they’re there.
A friend invited Tyrrell to a Thankful Thursday event, and he has been a supporter ever since.
“I went to the first event and was totally in awe about it,” Tyrrell said. “Alf was such a great entertainer, and I was totally blown away with the amount of money that had been raised in just a few hours. I was hooked on Thankful Thursday from that point forward.”
Grzegorczyk said the idea for Thankful Thursday came out of an effort to fill his bar on quiet weeknights when nothing was going on in town.
While brainstorming ways to draw in a crowd, he and his manager decided to try to create a different charity event every week. At their first event, they raised $50 for the Red Cross. He concluded that at least it was $50 more than the Red Cross had before, so they continued on from there.
“The first season, we got up to $500, and we were all excited about that,” Grzegorczyk said. “It just kicked off. I thought, like anything in Cheyenne, it would run its course in a couple years and then peter out. Not this one. This just keeps on going and going.”
Now, 10 years and 251 Thankful Thursdays later, they raised $12,000 in one night for Special Olympics Wyoming at this season’s first Thankful Thursday on Sept. 5.
“He’s taken it from a great idea that was in his mind to one of the greatest volunteer fundraising efforts that we have seen in this community in a long time,” said Phil Van Horn, another nominator. “He’s one of those guys who gets down in the trenches and makes things happen. It takes a lot of work. His enthusiasm for helping other people is infectious.”
There are about 40 charities waiting for their turn to be featured in the Thankful Thursday lineup due to its vibrant success.
“There isn’t one person Alf wouldn’t help,” Tyrrell said. “He’s always looking for ways to improve the community and ways to improve lives. I know of groups and organizations that have been transformed because of what he’s done.”
Grzegorczyk and his volunteers run two seasons per year – one in the spring that lasts about 13 weeks and one in the fall that runs for 11 weeks.
They post a list of the scheduled charities for each season on their Facebook page well in advance so those charity volunteers have plenty of time to gather up their auction items. Grzegorczyk said the more auction items a charity offers, the better their chance of having a good fundraiser – which gives the organizations ownership in the outcome.
Volunteering is nothing new for Grzegorczyk. Born and raised in Bay City, Michigan, Grzegorczyk joined the U.S. Air Force in 1982, which is what originally brought him to Cheyenne. He served here for most of his 26 years and was assigned to the 90th Strategic Missile Wing. In 1998, he moved to Washington, D.C., for work with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He spent five years there and then returned to F.E. Warren Air Force Base as part of the 90th Space Wing, where he stayed until his retirement.
Not surprisingly, during his time in the Air Force, he earned the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal by being active in the community.
It was during his time in the Air Force that he earned the nickname that most people know him by. He said when he joined the service, no one could pronounce his last name, so they started calling him Alphabet. Soon it was shortened to Alf, and the name stuck.
“A lot of people don’t even realize my name is Bryan,” he said. “They think it’s short for Alfred.”
Now the name is attached to his business, Alf’s Pub and Package Liquor.
Before retirement, he had purchased Jake’s Tavern, which he renamed Alf’s Pub. He then purchased the Redwood Lounge a couple of years after that. He sold that establishment after a couple of years so he could acquire some property around Alf’s Pub to expand that business. After an extensive remodel, the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce gave him its Beautification Award.
Grzegorczyk has also led a successful fundraising effort at Alf’s Pub for the Laramie County Christmas Bar Bucks program as its coordinator.
“In recent years, Alf’s Pub and Package Liquor team has raised the most money during the campaign, netting the Bar Buck’s Champion Trophy five times,” Bobbie Swanlund said in her nomination letter. “While owner of the Redwood Lounge, his team won the trophy two times.”
Even with all the hours he volunteers for Thankful Thursday, Grzegorczyk still finds time to help with other organizations. He is a member of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, AmVets, Knights of Columbus, Airport Golf Club, the American Legion and the Sons of the American Legion. His volunteer work extended to being the commander of the American Legion Post 6, department commander for the American Legion-State of Wyoming and president of the Airport Golf Club. He is a past president of the Laramie County Liquor Association and is currently on the board of directors for the Wyoming State Liquor Association.
“Bryan continues to give back to his community, donating his time for nonprofit organizations’ charity events as emcee and auctioneer, to include Chugwater Chili Cook-off, CASA, Black Dog Animal Rescue, Platte Rivers Veterans Fly Fishing, Cheyenne Equestrian Center and Ales for Alzheimer’s, just to name a few,” wrote Swanlund.
With no plans to step down from his work with Thankful Thursday anytime soon, Grzegorczyk said seeing people’s faces when he announces how much their charity has earned is his reward.
“You still get chills up your spine when you’re announcing and you see the joy in their face,” he said. “It’s so rewarding.”
Those who know him see how much he loves it, too.
“The biggest thing that has brought him enjoyment is doing Thankful Thursday and being able to help people,” said Tyrrell. “It has been his focus, above his business or anything else he’s done. It’s a total dream for him to do this. You can tell – he absolutely loves this.”