Driving past the Welcome to Washington sign at the corner of Highway 100 and International Drive always brings back good memories for Bill Schuck.
He was chair of the annual Washington Rotary Radio Auction in 1992 when it raised an unprecedented $11,800 to pay for the sign, landscaping and flagpoles.
It was the first time the auction had promoted a specific project for the fundraiser to benefit, Schuck said. And up until then, the event had only ever raised as much as $2,500.
The plan was for the Rotary to pay for the sign with proceeds raised over the course of four years. But the community response was so strong, that wasn’t necessary.
“As this town always does, when there is something worthwhile going on, people support it,” Schuck said.
He’s counting on this year to be no exception.
The 45th annual Washington Rotary Radio Auction will be held Thursday, July 16, from 6 to 9 p.m. People can listen as Rotarians promote the nearly 400 auction items that were donated by area businesses on the airwaves of KLPW (FM 97.3/AM 1220) and KFAV (FM 99.9), and they can go online to washmoauction.com to place their bids.
A complete list of auction items is available in today’s paper as an insert. The list includes an LED TV, packages for travel, spa, golf, date night, photography, car care, meat, and gift cards to area restaurants and businesses.
Not all items will be available for bidding all night. Check the insert to see which items will be available in which hour.
Rotarians hope to raise as much as $30,000 to benefit Franklin County CASA and Hope Ranch of Missouri.
CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocates is a nonprofit that advocates for the best interests of children of abuse or neglect who are under the protection of the Franklin County and Gasconade County juvenile courts.
Hope Ranch of Missouri is a nonprofit working to open a comprehensive youth facility in Stanton that offers safe, family-style homes along with alternative schooling, counseling services, enrichment programming, weekly service learnings and spiritual growth for children and older youth who are either in the foster care system or simply not succeeding at home or in a traditional school.
First Event Raised $2,000
Warren Swoboda is credited with hatching the idea for a radio auction, according to the Washington Rotary Club. He chaired the first event, collaborating with Don Northington, Sam Farrell, Ben Geisert, Bob Kidd, Gil Holtmeyer and Wayne Berry.
It raised around $2,000 with the support of businesses that donated items for the auction, as well as the newspaper and radio coverage that informed and engaged the community.
Over the last 45 years, revenue has grown as high as $32,000.
For most of its history, the radio auction was a four-day event held Monday through Thursday, several hours each night. A flyer specified which items were going to be featured on which night.
People would call into the radio station to place their bids, which Rotarians kept track of using business card-sized slips of paper.
Longtime Rotarian Leonard Marquart, who has participated in the radio auction since he joined the club in 1978 and served as an on-air auctioneer, recalled how one year that system backfired.
The auction was being broadcast from the Washington Motor Company (now Chris Auffenberg Ford), and a salesman happened to open a door on one side of the showroom at the same time someone was going out a door across the way, letting in a gust of wind that sent all of the small bid slips flying.
Rotarians scrambled to get the bid slips back in order, so the auctioneers could continue their promotions and bid updates on the radio.
“We were trying to figure out what we should say next, and people were scrambling around trying to get those sheets back correctly,” Marquart said, with a laugh.
As technology progressed, the radio auction added an online component. Listeners still had to call in to place bids, but they could follow the auction online.
Then last year the bidding went 100 percent online, although Rotarians continue to promote the auction items on the radio and challenge people to out-bid each other.
“Masterminds” of these improvements include Tom Wasser, Stefan Adams, Jason Oesterly and Rodney Stoyer, the Rotary website notes.
New Locations, Egg Timers and Bell-Ringers
The radio auction has been broadcast from a number of locations over the years. The first was the old Sears store on Main Street near the intersection of Lafayette Street in downtown Washington.
“We needed a location that had multiple phone lines, because we had 10 Rotarians sitting around to take phone calls,” Marquart said. “We also needed places that didn’t mind us interrupting their business.
“At Washington Motor Company, that was not the case. We went on the air at 5 p.m., and their business was open to 8 p.m., but they still accommodated us.”
Sharon Monzyk, who has been a Rotarian for about 25 years and involved with the radio auction for 10 or 15, remembers using overhead projectors, transparencies and different colored markers to keep track of high bids.
“Everybody had marker ink all over their hands,” she said. “We’d be in the front of the building, the auctioneers were in the back, and we had people running the halls back and forth to update the high bid.”
As the auction grew in size, it was moved to new locations, including Modern Auto, Parker Hannifin, St. Francis Borgia and Frick’s Quality Meats, to name a few. This year’s auction will be broadcast from the Washington KC Hall.
When Schuck co-chaired the auction from 1991 to 1993 Rotarians introduced egg timers to measure the length of time for bids and added the “bell-ringer” concept for when a bid reached or exceeded the face value of an item; the winning bidder received additional prizes, such as a free car wash or a free sundae.
This year’s bell-ringer bonuses include a choice of gifts from 4-U Fireworks, Domino’s Pizza, FasTrip, Four Rivers YMCA, Hillermann’s Nursery, IB Nuts & Fruit Too, K&R Market, Saucy’s Pizzeria, Washington Dairy Queen and Wolf Hollow Golf Club.
A 2003 Washington Rotary Club newsletter noted out of 532 items sold, 202 were bell-ringers. In 2005, there were 545 items sold and 256 were bell-ringers.
They also expanded the donor list and created a wholesale list of items for businesses to donate if they did not have a marketable product to offer.
Shrimp Boat Dinner Ride, Other Memories
Camaraderie among the Rotarians is a big part of the annual radio auction, President Donna Klott said.
Rotarians who have volunteered for years say they do it because it’s fun. There’s a lot of playful teasing and ribbing that goes on in the effort to entertain listeners and bring in bids.
In the auction’s early years, Butch Droege would bid on ladies’ undergarments from Wondermaid for Herb Dill as a joke, and Dill would bid on hair products for Droege, because he was bald.
“That’s what made it so fun,” Marquart said. “People would listen just for the entertainment, and then get caught up in the bidding themselves and doing good for the community.”
Some of the auction items have been memorable too.
One year there was a shrimp boat dinner cruise on the Missouri River, and for several years the Rotarians would find a used car to include. That went well until one year the used car turned out to be a lemon, Monzyk said.
Klott, who describes the auction as a mostly smooth event, recalled how about eight years ago the computer system crashed.
“I don’t remember how we got through it, but we did. The public didn’t know about it, but that was a chaotic night on the Rotarians’ end,” Klott said.
The radio auction has always been an important fundraiser for the Washington Rotary Club because of the amount of money it raises, Klott said, but it is even more important this year, since the Washington Town & Country Fair, another major source of fundraising for the club, has been canceled.
The club’s other major fundraisers include the Annual Bill Kluesner Memorial Car Raffle and a pancake breakfast.
Over the last 45 years, the Rotary Radio Auction has raised nearly $775,000, all of which has been invested directly into the community through projects like the Rotary Riverfront Trail, Schuck said.
In 2005, the Washington Rotary Club made history, donating $100,000 to the Washington Parks Department for the Rotary Recreational Complex-Ronsick Field. And in 2010, the radio auction helped the club donate $100,000 to Exceptional Equestrians of the Meramec Valley, which provides therapeutic horsemanship for people with a range of diagnoses from autism to Down syndrome to ADHD.
Currently, the club has pledged to donate $50,000 to Hope Ranch over the next five years.
The annual radio auction will be a significant part of achieving that goal, Klott said.