Doggone good time
The absence of beloved auctioneer Art Buchwald and a one-day postponement due to rain did little to dampen the 29th Possible Dreams Auction on Tuesday. The annual fund-raiser for Martha's Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) raised more than $444,000 - and the spirits of everyone who attended.
The tally, which is still expected to rise, was considerably lower than the more than $730,000 the auction raised last year. The weather and postponement may have been factors.
"Some people come every year and buy quite a few dreams, and just couldn't be there when we had to change the date - we knew the rain date was going to hurt us," said Jan Hatchard, MVCS director of development. "However, it was amazing that so many people were able to reschedule themselves during the busy summer season. They were so very generous, and we are so very grateful."
The festive crowd, many of them wearing hats in tribute to former auctioneer Art Buchwald, awaits the auction's start in the garden of the Harborside Inn. Photos and video clips by Ralph Stewart
This was the first time the event was rained out. The weather forecasts early Monday morning called for heavy rain and thunderstorms.
"Once I heard the word 'thunderstorm,' I knew we wouldn't take that risk," Ms. Hatchard said. The auction committee made the decision to postpone the event to Tuesday.
Auctioneer Susan Klein rewards guest presenter Livingston Taylor with a hug for a job well done
The forecast proved correct, which came as a relief to those who agonized over their early morning decision. "Thank God it rained," quipped auctioneer Susan Klein as the event got underway about 4:30 pm Tuesday.
Although skies were gray, the beautiful gardens in bloom and people dressed in brightly colored clothes and hats lent a festive summertime air to the outdoor auction area at the Harborside Inn in Edgartown.
In his opening remarks, auction chairman Jim Shane joked that he was sure that Mr. Buchwald, who died in January, was responsible somehow for Monday night's weather. He said Art had always managed to cause some kind of delay in the proceedings in years past. An award-winning political satirist and humor columnist, Mr. Buchwald spent summers at his home in Vineyard Haven and raised more than $7.5 million in 26 years as the Possible Dreams main auctioneer.
Prior to the bidding, his son Joel Buchwald noted that the auction was his Dad's way of giving back to the Island. "His spirit is here, and I'm sure that he's rooting for this auction to be the best one yet. That would mean everyone spending all their money - he'd like that," Joel said.
Mr. Buchwald's tradition of wearing a hat to the auction, which he would put up for bid at the end, was not forgotten. In addition to many in the crowd who wore hats, MVCS volunteers sported straw hats encircled with brightly colored floral bands, and were unfailingly efficient, helpful, and attentive to every guest.
Guest presenter Harold Ramis helps entice bidders on Kate Taylor's offer of a signed poster, concert tickets, and hat, which sold for $1,000.
Auctioneer Susan Klein asked everyone to take off their hats in tribute to Mr. Buchwald, while singers Kate Taylor and her brother Livingston performed the song "Dream a Little Dream of Me."
Tribute also was paid to Philip Craig, a mystery writer whose novels were set on the Vineyard. Mr. Craig died in May. For more than 10 years, he and his wife Shirley donated "dreams" to the auction, a tradition Ms. Craig and her children continued Tuesday night. MVCS committee member Jim Pringle asked everyone to raise a glass in a toast to his good friend Mr. Craig, as he thanked him "for all of us on the Island whose lives you touched."
With tributes and acknowledgements aside, Ms. Klein and her seasoned partner Rick Lee took to their rapid-fire auctioneering task eagerly, interspersing quips with cajoling to squeeze out some big bids for big dreams.
"What's the difference between $11,000 and $11,500?" Ms. Klein barked at one bidder. "You can get a Toyota for that!"
In addition to the dynamic duo, the nattily dressed Mr. Taylor, decked out in a blue and white seersucker suit and straw hat, served as a guest presenter, along with Harold Ramis, the screenwriter, director, and actor.
Mr. Taylor also provided musical encouragement to bidders, crooning a sweet version of "How much is that doggie in the window?" to Clifford the Big Red Dog. The beloved character appeared with his creator, author Norman Bridwell, to promote a "dream" that included an original painting of Clifford, plus 10 signed books. Noting that after participating for 28 years in the auction, Clifford would show signs of age, Mr. Bridwell threw in a sketch of a "geriatric" Clifford, as well.
Although skies were gray, the stars were out. Ted Danson, an actor perhaps best known for his role as Sam Malone on the sit-com "Cheers," apologized that his wife actress Mary Steenburgen was unable to attend.
"Ted would like me to sell one night with his wife," quipped Rick Lee, pretending to misread the auction program, and then corrected his mistake to say that the "dream" was a dinner for four people at the couple's home in Chilmark.
With bidding off to a slow start, Mr. Danson suggested, "Maybe we can throw that night with Mary back in!" When two competing bidders hit $8,500 and $9,000, Mr. Danson generously offered a dinner to both.
Candy Ruitenberg, one of the two winners, said she is a big fan of Mr. Danson and his wife. She and her husband Paul live in New Jersey and spend summers in Edgartown. Ms. Ruitenberg said she wanted to participate in the auction by bidding on something, in addition to donating a "dream" with her husband.
They offered a sunset sail for six on their schooner "When and If," once owned by General George S. Patton, with Ben Taylor onboard as a special guest and a photograph of everyone by photographer Louisa Gould. The trip went for $4,000.
Several donors, it seemed, could not resist buying a "dream" themselves.
Bill Rollnick and his wife Nancy Ellison donated opening night tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, plus a copy of Ms. Ellison's book and a signed photo of choice from the book, which sold for $5,000. They also were responsible for facilitating the donation of a set of golf clubs used by former President Bill Clinton when he played on the Island.
Not even the sight of Clifford the Big Red Dog seemed impossible to singer Livingston Taylor, who offered him a song at Tuesday's 29th Possible Dreams Auction, a benefit for Martha's Vineyard Community Services.
Holding up one of the clubs, Mr. Rollnick told the audience if someone hit a ball with it, "You can have lunch with it before the ball lands." He talked up the clubs so much, he ended up buying them himself for $19,000.
Olga Hirshhorn, who has donated past "dream" trips to view her family's art collections at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., offered brunch and a game of boules at her Vineyard home and a weekend tour of her art collection at a museum in Naples, Fla., this year.
Seeking to fan the bidding fires for a fishing trip with well-known Island fisherman Cooper Gilkes and Times news editor and fishing columnist Nelson Sigelman, she got so enthused talking about how much she enjoyed trips she won in the past that she opened the bidding on this year's trip with $5,000. Robert and Tara Levine, however, outbid her at $8,000.
Even Mr. Danson could not resist one of the "dreams," paying $7,000 for a package that included Celtics game tickets, a tour of the locker room, and autographed jerseys.
Auctioneer Rick Lee, Island styling.
Although retired newscaster Walter Cronkite did not attend the auction this year, his reputation as "the most trusted man in America" inspired a $16,000 winning bid for a luncheon sail aboard his boat "WYNTJE." Susie Mondry got the "dream" as an early gift from her husband Larry for her birthday, which is Dec. 30.
No other "dream" could compare, as far as Ms. Mondry was concerned, although she feared it might be out of her reach. "I can just hear his voice," she marveled after winning the bid. "It is an honor and a privilege to give back to the Island community, as well as to have the opportunity to meet such an incredible human being." She and Linda Cooper, her neighbor from Dallas, said they almost didn't attend Tuesday night, and were very glad they did.
A father and son, Michael and Daniel Pollock of Pound Ridge, N.Y., teamed up to win a trip for $13,500 to watch the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona next spring. Avid fans of racing, the Pollock men said the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix will be especially exciting because a world champion and a rookie currently leading the championship will be driving. Mom Roslyn and daughter Jennifer may go along on the trip, too. Vineyard vacationers for about 13 years, the Pollocks said they have attended several auctions and are happy to contribute to such a good cause.
For Michael and Jennifer Phillips of North Reading, two "dreams" stood out as gifts for their 12-year-old daughter Kylie. They bid $17,000 for a visit to the Hollywood set of the Disney Channel's television show, "Hannah Montana," where they will meet its star, Miley Cyrus, and her dad Billy Ray Cyrus. The trip will be Kylie's Christmas present, Ms. Phillips said.
The second "dream" included tickets to the finals of "American Idol" in May 2008 and attendance at the Fox party after the last show, for which they bid $6,500. Ms. Phillips said they won the same package the last two years, and that Kylie walked down the red carpet the night of the final show and received autographs from all of the stars. "We come every year," Mr. Phillips said. "It's a great cause for the community."
Mr. Buchwald's legacy of hats continued throughout the evening. Actress Patricia Neal included her sunshine yellow hat in her "dream" donation of cocktails at her Edgartown home and dinner at Lola's Restaurant, which went for $6,000. Mr. Taylor auctioned off his own brand-new straw hat and four tickets to his August 11 show at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle for $2,500.
Not to be outdone by her brother, Kate Taylor offered up her hat, a poster, and tickets to her August 15 performance at Edgartown's Old Whaling Church, which went for $1,000.
Usually every seat at the auction is filled, with people in lawn chairs on every available inch of space. This year, however, many seats were empty. "We moved people up into those seats, and it gave them a more fun, close-up experience they didn't get to have before," said Ms. Hatchard.
Robyn Slupski of Acton was one of them, enjoying the auction and what she called "grand entertainment" by herself, while vacationing on the Island with her husband, John, and children, Cassie and Alexa.
The setting brought back memories, as well. "We were married here and had our reception here in this garden 13 years ago," she recalled.
Maria Ilioff had the best set-up of all, however, enjoying the auction from the porch of a Harborside timeshare condominium. She and her family, who have come to the Vineyard for 18 years, recently purchased the auction week as their annual slot after enjoying the event in the past.
At the end of the evening, Meg Mercier, who was busy painting the auction scene from the balcony, auctioned the completed work off for $12,000. Candy Baldwin bought it on behalf of her friend, Scott Earl, who missed the auction because he had to return home to upstate New York on Tuesday. The two of them have attended several auctions together and bought four of Mr. Buchwald's hats in the past. "This is the closest thing to the hat," Ms. Baldwin explained. "It makes a nice remembrance."
Packing up his guitar and reflecting on the evening, Mr. Taylor said, "It is a great event, a Vineyard institution, and to be in the presence of such generosity and fellowship is always uplifting."
Although the tally after Tuesday's auction seemed lower than years past, receipts from ticket sales, concessions, and the online auction are still outstanding. Bids continue for online items at www.possibledreamsauction.org until August 20.
The auction's proceeds benefit MVCS programs, which include Early Childhood Programs, the Island Counseling Center and Disability Services, including the Daybreak Clubhouse, the Visiting Nurse Service, Women's Support Services, and the Thrift Shop.