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Three years after wife’s death, Billquist continues to give back

Photo by Cameron Hurst Jamie Billquist stands in the parking lot of the Pepsi Bottling Group on Washington Street where he distributed 100 turkey dinners in memory of his wife Rosie, who was killed three years ago on Sunday after being shot by a neighbor who mistook her for a deer.

The cold mix of rain and snow didn’t bother Jamie Billquist on this Sunday morning.

Dressed in a turkey costume and a smile — albeit covered by a mask — there was no other way he could have imagined spending this day in particular than by helping others.

“Today is a good day — even though it’s cold and cruddy out, it doesn’t matter,” the Sherman resident said. “This helps me get through today … It’s just a bad day normally.”

“A bad day” doesn’t even begin to describe the events of Nov. 22, 2017. Out for a walk with their two dogs on the eve of Thanksgiving, Billquist’s wife Rosemary, known as “Rosie” to those who loved her, was shot and killed by a neighbor, thinking she was a deer.

In the three years since, Billquist has turned his grief into positive action. Donations made to the foundation he created in Rosie’s memory helped provide 100 turkey dinners to those in need this Thanksgiving that he and friend Matthew Ehrman helped distribute on Sunday morning.

“Save-A-Lot hooked us up with the turkeys and Pepsi hooked us up with some two-liters,” he said. “I put an event on Facebook to tell people that we’d be here to distribute dinners to the first 100 people to message me. We had an extra 12 and everybody showed up early to get them, but it’s fine. We’re just happy to be able to do this.”

Billquist and Ehrman normally go door-to-door to deliver the dinners. This year, they provided drive-thru service in the parking lot of the Pepsi Bottling Group on Washington Street.

“I think this is just a great thing to do especially now with people losing their jobs,” he said of the impact COVID-19 has had on this holiday season. “It’s a hard time and if we can help with a little dinner to feed some families. Out of the 100 dinners, I’m hoping we’ll be able to feed 500 people. There are a lot of families that have six, seven people, but we try to do the best we can.”

The last three years have not been easy, Billquist said, but they have been “busy.”

“I’ve learned there are a lot of good people out there, even this year with everything going on,” he said. “There are still people willing to give and it makes me feel good knowing that.”

A health information specialist at UPMC Chautauqua, his wife was beloved by those who knew her, Billquist said.

“She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known and would give her shirt off her back for anybody and just an angel,” he said. It’s pretty crazy because still, even after three years, she still is on a lot of people’s minds. … She’s definitely touched a lot of lives in the good things that she has done in the short period of time she was here on Earth.”

He added, “It’s 27 years of my life with not just my wife, but my best friend. She’s missed by a lot of people.”

Annually, Billquist organizes four events to help raise money for the “Rosie” Foundation: a poker tournament, two races — Rosie was an avid runner — and a golf tournament.

“That’s how we raise the money to do all these things,” he said. “There are always people giving and it’s just so nice to do this thing and let people know that we’re doing good and helping people out. … It’s been so busy, but it’s great. It keeps me motivated and active.”

That motivation, spurred by profound sadness and loss, has in turn helped “hundreds, if not thousands of families along the way.”

“Even though it was a tragedy, what happened with her, I hope I’ve been able to take a tragedy and turn it into good,” he said. “It makes me feel good and I know she would have loved it to help all these people.”

Three other organizations will also be providing Thanksgiving dinners this week in Chautauqua County.

Dinner will be available at the St. Susan Center Dining room at 31 Water Street, Suite 130, in Jamestown on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The dining room is capped at 50% capacity so patrons may have a short wait. Masks and social distancing will be required. Those interested can call (716) 664-2253 for more information.

Chautauqua County Rural Ministries Friendly Kitchen, at 127 Central Avenue in Dunkirk, will also serve take-out from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday. For more information, those interesting can call (716) 366-1787.

Westfield Community Kitchen, at 101 E. Main St. in Westfield, will also have take-out meals available from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

In Cattaraugus County, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church & Greater Olean Association of Churches will host take-out at 109 S. Barry Street in Olean from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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