The attention was almost too much for Tokar, 52, who is quiet, shy and circumspect. He spent much of the evening trying unsuccessfully to avoid some of the attention coming his way.
“I’m more comfortable in my blacksmith shop restoring intricate pieces of metal or making new ones,” he said. “I’ve been trying to stay out of the way here.”
The Nov. 30 fire destroyed the half of the century-old wooden building behind the former Southern States farm store on South Princess Street where Tokar worked his forge. Among the heavy metal tools lost or damaged were a trip hammer, pipe-threading machine and a hydraulic press.
Also destroyed were raw materials, smaller tools and finished inventory. He estimates the loss at around $10,000. There is no insurance.
The cause of the fire still is under investigation by the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s office, Tokar said.
He plans to rebuild his shop in a larger, more modern building farther back on the farm store property owned by the same landlord.
“I’ve been spending the last four weeks cleaning up and salvaging what I can,” he said. “I think April should be a reasonable time frame for when I can get back to work.”
The benefit was organized by town residents Lori Robertson and Joanie Blanton.
“Dan’s a treasure,” Blanton said. “He’s one of our own and we want to see that forge working again.”
“We knew Dan needed some help,” Robertson said.
The banquet was billed “Fire in the Forge! a hot night of food, music and fun to benefit Dan Tokar, Shepherdstown’s Blacksmith.”
Ten area bands showed up to keep the festivities moving from 5 p.m. to midnight in the second floor of the Shepherdstown Community Center.
Dave Hark was among those who showed up for the benefit. He was joining other patrons who were eating at one of the seven large round tables set up for the event. Behind Hark, the band Shenandoah Circle was winding up on “West Virginia My Home.”
“Dan Tokar is a wonderful person. He has helped more people than anyone I know,” Hark said. “Just look around this room. He turns sweat into equity. Dan works really hard in the way that most people don’t anymore.”
“He’s a dying icon,” Benita Keller said. Tokar’s shop is across railroad tracks behind her house.
“Most people don’t have a blacksmith shop in their backyard,” she said. “When out-of-town guests come, I always take them over to see Dan’s shop.”
Tokar came to Shepherdstown from Brownsville, Pa., south of Pittsburgh, in 1985. He worked in a room behind O’Hurley’s General Store before he opened his shop.