A six-foot tall caricature-style bust of the late Art Buchwald greeted the close to 700 guests filing into the Possible Dreams Auction in Ocean Park on Monday, Aug. 1. The statue, by artist Joann Mettler, was a reminder of the truly larger-than-life personality who helped catapult the annual auction to the status it enjoys today. And the spirit of the often irreverent humorist was in evidence at an event that was filled with energy, laughter, and lots of applause.
The auction, which ran for more than three hours, raised $251,350, up slightly from last year’s, for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). The money will go a long way to defray the $1 million in unfunded care provided by the organization. The event, in its 33rd year, is the primary fundraiser for MVCS and has traditionally raised more money than any other Island benefit. In 2010, organizers announced that the auction items raised approximately $225,00. No small amount, certainly, but a noticeable drop-off from the more than $425,000 raised in 2009. The final figure for the 2010 event was later amended to approximately $450,000 as more donations flowed in. The final total including dinner receipts and contributions has yet to be tallied.
The evening started off with 13-year-old Darby Patterson belting out Barbara Streisand’s signature song “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” The West Tisbury School seventh grader thrilled the audience with a strong, skillful delivery and the enthusiasm of both performer and audience set the tone for the rest of the evening. Tim Madden, state representative, briefly acknowledged Community Services’ 50th anniversary and the vital work that the organization has done for the community, and MVCS executive director Julia Burgess followed with a few words.
Laurel Redington-Whitaker of MVY radio and Alex Friedman of Plum TV were joined by professional auctioneer Dan Flynn of Quincy in leading the bidding. Mr. Flynn proved to be a flamboyant, if at times somewhat over the top entertainer, goading bidders on with humorous remarks. Ms. Redington-Whitaker and Mr. Freidman kept the focus on the community and the benefiting organization, and often had a hard time getting a word in during Mr. Flynn’s nonstop stand up. The seasoned auctioneer had the crowd laughing throughout the evening and kept the audience engaged — and bidding.
There were a record 63 dreams on the auction block this year. Dinner with former Navy SEAL Tom Rancich was the next item. Mr. Rancich, who has an arsenal of compelling stories from his years serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, got up on the stage and gave a very heartfelt speech about how he had been helped tremendously by Island Counseling’s Tom Bennett upon returning from one tour of duty with post traumatic stress disorder. “If not for Community Services I would probably not be here today,” he said to thunderous applause. His dream sold for $3,500. Mr. Rancich also successfully bid on two dreams — a fishing trip and a Boston Bruins package.
Among other dream donors in attendance were James Lapine, Louise DuArt, and Alan Dershowitz. Marty Nadler got up and gave a very entertaining come-on for his trolley tour and clambake dream.
One of the most delightful moments of the evening came during the bidding for Olga Hirshhorn’s dream. For many years, the Vineyard Haven summer resident has donated the opportunity to play the French lawn game boule and enjoy a brunch at her art-filled home. As the bidding stalled temporarily, Ms. Hirshhorn got up and announced, “I’m 91 years old. I’m not sure how long I’m going to be able to do this.” She got a good laugh from the crowd and $4,500 for her dream from Gwen Norton. Dinner at Gwen and Peter Norton’s landmark Ocean Park home was up for bid later on in the auction.
Peter Norton was one of the top players in one of the evening’s most heated bidding wars. The dream was a two-day, one night stay on the aircraft carrier USS Kennedy. The competition for this item was intense and Mr. Norton provided some extra drama by holding off his trumping bids until the very last second. He was set to win the coveted dream when the donor offered to double the prize and award it to both top bidders for $25,000. This moment drew deafening applause from the crowd.
Jim Marshall of Boston and Oak Bluffs won another popular dream — the opportunity to have Henry Louis “Skip” Gates trace his ancestry. Mr. Marshall, who notes that he knows Mr. Gates, says that he lost out on the dream last year when it sold for $4,000. He paid $12,500 to grab it this time. His wife Carole Simpson notes that her husband is particularly interested in his genealogy since his family was involved with the Underground Railroad.
John and Caroline Connors of Edgartown and Boston have been attending the auction for about 30 years and have walked away with an estimated 20 dreams in all, including a performance at their home by Carly Simon and one of Princess Diana’s dresses. This year they racked up two more dreams. They won lunch with Charlayne Hunter-Gault and theirs was the winning bid on one of the top dreams — a Napa Valley package that includes what Mr. Connors described as the deal-maker, dinner at the famed French Laundry. Mr. Connors said that he is always happy to support an organization that “does so many things for so many people.”
Marc Brown, author and illustrator of the best-selling “Arthur” books, was the honoree at this year’s auction. For many years Mr. Brown has donated a visit (at his own expense) by himself and his popular fictional creation Arthur to a school anywhere in the country, and he has long been a supporter of MVCS. His dream fetched $5,500.
Auctioneer Mr. Flynn’s running patter included a lot of jokes about women overspending and men having to placate their wives, i.e. “Ladies, when your husband digs his fingernails into your thighs that means bid higher.” Many of his one-liners were very funny and drew a good response from the crowd. However, the second highest bidder of the evening, Laure Sudreau-Rippe, had the last laugh. After winning the James Taylor concert dream for $15,000 (she also took home a horse whisperer dream) she said in an interview, “Everybody thinks it’s the husband doing the buying but it’s not the man in this case,” she said admiringly of her husband William Rippe sitting next to her. “He has enough ego not to let that bother him.” The Rippes, of Westport, Conn. and Chilmark, were first time auction attendees.
At the $300 a head post-auction dinner catered by V. Jaime Hamlin and Sons, with music by Joanne Cassidy and Wes Nagy, three of the women with key roles in the event commented on the evening. Auction co-chair Wiet Bacheller said, “I think it was a wonderful auction — very spirited and fun and I’m very grateful to all the donors, bidders and volunteers.” MVCS executive director Julia Burgess added words of appreciation, saying, “This couldn’t be done without the broad community support. There were a lot of people who stepped up to help out.”
As the guests were filing into the dinner tent, a gorgeous red sunset provided an appropriate dramatic curtain closer to the main event. Prompted by this spectacle, Ms. Redington-Whitaker later commented, “This was a total blast and just what I think Art Buchwald would have loved — the energy in the room, the bidding wars, and the beautiful sunset that you know he painted for us all.”