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This nights for you, Jeff

Last week's benefit for Jeff Young welcomed Gene Simmons and Tommy Thayer from KISS - and friends and family who raised funds for Young's ongoing medical expenses
by: VERN UYETAKE, The evening fund-raiser for Jeff Young was held at Roger Pollock’s home in Lake Oswego, left.

Tommy Thayer and Gene Simmons from the band KISS encourage guests to donate funds to help Jeff Young pay for his high medical expenses. Young suffers from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In the driveway, they slip their car keys to the valet, glide through the arches that lead into the yard.

Overlooking the Willamette River, where the partygoers mingle and banana trees sway in a soft breeze, the stage is set for more than just the typical Lake Oswego gala.

At the adobe-styled house of Roger Pollock, owner of Buena Vista Custom Homes, guests pay handsomely to attend the buffet and auction.

The guest of honor?

Jeff Young, among the longest- living ALS sufferers, smiles amid friends and family. (The average life expectancy of an ALS patient is between two and five years, yet Young was diagnosed in 1983).

And Young's guests?

Bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist Tommy Thayer from the band KISS, encouraging donations to aid Young, who faces $120,000 a year in medical expenses.

Maybe Simmons sets this scene best, standing in Pollock's over-the-top ballroom under chandeliers and basketball hoops, taking the microphone and chiding guests.

'I will personally embarrass anyone who cheaps out,' Simmons says. 'We want you to show how big your heart is by showing us where the money is, baby. Do we understand each other?'

And they do.

The 350 plus partygoers - some paying $250 to attend, most paying $100 - come to part with money.

All supporters of Young, a Lake Oswego resident, they bid throughout the night on auction items, then buy drinks from cash bars and pose for celebrity photos.

Some spend thousands on vacations and tickets to sporting events, furniture and cosmetics, even a Les Paul guitar autographed by KISS band members. All the auction items are donated. And all are to benefit a friend.

Young suffers from ALS - Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - a neurodegenerative disease that causes motor neurons to die, eliminating the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement. It is also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Pollock has known Young since college - Thayer has known him since high school - and Young used to play guitar with Thayer. Thayer says that while the event isn't a KISS show, it is a chance for the musicians to help raise money and awareness for Young and his condition.

'We're here to make sure everybody steps up and pulls the money out of their pockets,' Thayer says. 'That's the only reason we're here.'

The party is organized by Friends of Jeff (www.friendsofjeff.com) - a group of Young's friends that formed eight years ago to raise funds for Young's medical expenses.

Thayer - originally from Beaverton - says that when he woke up that morning he was excited to see Young.

'Today is Jeff's day,' Thayer says at the beginning of the party. 'We're going to make a difference for him tonight.'

And they do.

More often, it is the other way around.

Young, it is said, always makes a positive difference for everyone around him.

A 1980 graduate of Lake Oswego High School, Young is still visible from the school's sidelines in his wheelchair during football games as an assistant coach to head coach Steve Coury.

'He's a huge part of our success and what we've done,' Coury said. 'He's a huge part of Lake Oswego.'

More than 3,000 subscribers worldwide receive daily inspirational e-mails from Young despite the fact that he is unable to walk, lift his arms or speak clearly.

Simmons say that each day he looks forward to Young's positive quotes and antidotes.

'Motivational speakers charge millions of dollars for that,' he says.

And on this night, millions of positive comments about Young fill the evening air.

Robin Storey's two sons each worked with Young through football.

'Jeff is an inspiration to the kids and parents as well,' says Storey. 'He addresses the kids as warriors, but, he is a warrior.'

Posing with Simmons and Thayer in photos, guests pay $100 each for snapshots to benefit Young.

Out on the lawn near the pool, flashes flicker, some guests sport high-end fashions, some wear jeans, others are in suits and ties, but all warm up their wallets for the auction.

Raise your bids,and your hearts

It is the silent and oral auctions that bring in the big bucks.

The auctioneer repeatedly says 'every dollar goes to Jeff.' And the members of the captive audience in Pollock's ballroom - with a painted mural on the ceiling, balconies and stage with velvet curtains - put their money where their mouths are.

And their hearts.

Thousand-dollar football tickets and a $7,000 Belize vacation soon turn to five-digit purchases when - off the cuff - Simmons revs the audience with packages not provided in the bidders' booklet.

'Whoever gives me $10,000, the next time you're in L.A., you and I will have dinner - place of your choice, my treat,' Simmons says.

The crowd goes wild.

'Give me $15,000 and I'll fly you down to L.A.,' he adds.

Two people buy dinner with Simmons for $15,000 each.

'That's why Portland rocks, baby,' he says.

But he isn't stopping there.

Simmons gets two $10,000 winning bids for backstage passes to a Northwest 2009 KISS show. Someone spends $7,000 to jam with KISS onstage during the band's sound check. And, he says, the next highest bidder will appear on his A and E TV hit reality show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

'Yes, you can bring your wife, your pet down, your parakeet. It's my show. I do what I want,' Simmons says.

It goes for $10,000.

But, the largest donations from the oral auction are from Pollock's donated 14-bedroom Mexican villa in Baja California, surrounded by the ocean on three sides. Two people buy week-long vacations there for $25,000 each.

Pollock says Young has inspired him through the years.

'It means a lot to me to be able to help,' Pollock says.

Each year, Young's medical expenses exceed $120,000 and Andrea Bauer, media contact with the Bauer Agency, says the event raises enough money to pay for Young's expenses for the next year or two.

'The number is more than he has ever raised - more than he could have possibly hoped for,' Bauer says.

Thayer's brother, Lake Oswego resident John Thayer, says he is impressed by the famous musicians' ability to gain large donations for Young.

'They did a great job putting this event together, generating the excitement and enthusiasm in the community and putting on an incredible show to help our friend Jeff,' John Thayer says.

Tommy Thayer adds, 'We'd like more people to know about Friends of Jeff.'

A gorgeous buffet and rock and roll legends aside, the elegant affair is filled with love from friends, family and Young's famous support group.

At night's end, Thayer and local musician friends perform acoustic Beatles songs and the ballroom transforms into a lively dance.

Simmons joins Thayer on stage to perform KISS' signature anthem.

And the audience chants, 'I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day.'

Simmons says that everybody lives in a community with someone needing assistance and adds he encourages communal activities.

'The next time you guys are dipping the chips and watching a sports game, charge each other to sit around and take that money and give it to someone in need,' Simmons suggests. 'Take that same idea and spread it around the world. It doesn't need to be a big, fancy thing.'

But this big, fancy thing does a world of good.

Ann Johnson of Lake Oswego says it best when she describes why she attends the event.

'Jeff,' she says. 'We're all here for Jeff.'

For more information about Friends of Jeff, to join the daily e-mail list and to make a donation, visit www.friendsofjeff.com .

Reporter Lee van der Voo contributed to this story.