Possible Dreams remain possible, but venerable MVCS auction’s proceeds trimmed sharply


Decorated by a huge white tent Monday evening, Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs was the site of the 32nd annual Possible Dreams Auction, the summer-defining auction of all auctions that benefits Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). Since the first auction in 1978, which raised $1,000, the auctions have raised more than $8 million for the social services organization.

More than $300,000 was raised for MVCS Monday night. No small amount, certainly, but a noticeable drop-off from the more than $425,000 raised last year. “We are all very pleased with the atmosphere and the spirit of the people there,” said Wiet Bacheller who co-chaired the event with DiAnn Ray. “It felt like spontaneous attendance was up from last year. Of course, we’d like to get two million dollars, but it is just not feasible in this economic atmosphere. I want to stress how grateful we are for every dollar that came in.”

Julia Burgess, MVCS executive director, told The Times yesterday that she expects once all donations are counted the final amount would not be significantly off from last year. “We thought it was a wonderful event,” she said.

Open hearts and wallets

First to greet the crowd was Julia Burgess, the executive director of MVCS, who outlined the function of organization and underscored its importance to the Island community. MVCS offers a broad range of social services, including early childhood programs, assistance to victims of domestic or sexual violence, disability services, counseling for mental health and substance abuse, and a new day treatment program for those battling addiction, called New Paths to Recovery.

Then the fun began. Ms. Bachellor encouraged the crowd to open their hearts and their wallets. “As I used to remind my third-graders, raise your hand often,” she said. “And if that doesn’t work, raise both hands.”

Arnie Reisman and Paula Lyons, who spend as much time as possible at their second home in Menemsha, were the auctioneers. Among their many other accomplishments, they are part of the cast of “Says You,” the comic quiz show aired by NPR. The rest of the cast joined them on the stage for a typical routine from the show. With some 40 auction items on the docket, along with seven 60-second Lightning Round items, the auctioneers struck an up-tempo pace — dawdlers beware or be damned.

Time and again, however, bidding was interrupted by donors who burnished their offerings with extra added attractions or by testimonials from those who had won the item in previous years.

Now and then, Barry Nolan, the veteran TV personality who’s also part of “Says You,” jumped onto the stage, grabbed a mike, and pumped up the audience — and the bidding — with his manic hyperbole. All in good fun, of course, and all for the benefit of MVCS.

Donors, bidders share goals

None of the fun would be possible without the generosity of the donors of the dreams, and the auctioneers went out of their way to acknowledge and thank them. Donors are united in their support of MVCS, but there are individual twists to their motives as well.

Tony Holand, the weathervane artist who owns Tuck and Holand Metal Sculpture, likes the local aspect of MVCS. “It provides a lot of services you just can’t get other places,” he said. “I think we really need to keep things local, take care of our own.” Mr. Holand donated the chance to make a metal sculpture with him during a half-day session in his studio in Vineyard Haven.

With a winning bid of $3,500, Jordan Cohen of Chilmark and Washington, D.C., reprised his winning bid of several years ago. “At that time I had a small sailboat that I fashioned into a wall-hanging which I’ve been very proud of. Since then I’ve got a new boat, and I thought I’d get a new wall-hanging with a profile of my new boat.”

As proud as he is of his artistic accomplishments, Mr. Cohen is equally proud to be supporting MVCS. “We’re eager to make sure that MVCS remains as helpful as it can be for the people who need their services,” he said. “I don’t think people really appreciate all the good work that it does, and it deserves much more support than it gets.”

Olga Hirshhorn of Vineyard Haven and Washington has attended the auction since she first became a dedicated summer resident in 1988. “Well I’m interested in the Vineyard,” she said simply about her attraction to the MVCS benefit. “When I first started going to the auction, I bought everything that had to do with the Island. I’ve taken a helicopter flight over it, bought all the fishing trips, and took a walk with Michael Wild. I went gathering lobsters, I went on a picnic and a jeep ride all over Chappaquiddick with Phil Craig, and I made a piece of sculpture with Travis Tuck.

“I love everything that has to do with the Island, because I love it here, and I love doing things that help the Island.” This year, Ms. Hirshhorn again donated a game of boule and brunch at her Vineyard Haven home. Just as the bidding reached a crescendo, the auctioneers stopped everything to recognize her recent birthday with a cake and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” filled the tent.

Dreamers all

Farther afield, pre-historian Duncan Caldwell has offered guided tours for the last seven years through secret caves south of Paris, where he lives when he’s not in his heart-home on the Vineyard. Everyone who has taken the tour comes back raving.

“The caves are amazing,” said Steve Schwab of Chilmark, who won the dream previously. “They are very small, and no one seems to bother to go into the back of them. In the mouths there is recent graffiti, and then further in there’s World War II etchings of partisans who took refuge there. Further in there was a beautiful etching of Knight Templars, who used to hide out in the area. And then in the very back are the prehistoric etchings. We went as a family and my kids were just fascinated. Duncan is a great storyteller, and they were really touched.”

Mr. Caldwell first decided to donate a Dream to the auction as a form of repayment for an unusual service he received from the organization. “Building our house in Aquinnah was an arduous process over about five years, and we ran out of money,” he recounted. “I was doing a lot of the construction myself, and we had no money for furniture or cutlery and so forth. And so the closest thing to a department story emporium or auction house, where you never know what you’re going to find from day to day, was the MVCS Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven. Dolly Campbell and other staffers were very helpful in pointing out things that we could use in the house, and I thought it would be nice to return the favor to Community Services in this way. It’s a gift to that organization, and it’s a gift to the Island, which has been home to our family.

The top bid for Mr. Caldwell’s dream was $11,000, but before the echo of the gavel faded, Mr. Caldwell offered a second trip at the same price, which was promptly snapped up.

With three partners who all have ties to the Vineyard, Sean Conley of West Tisbury created the Baltimore Grand Prix, which will have its inaugural race in August 2011. When they pitched their race to the Indy Racing League, they met Al Unser Jr., the winner of two Indy 500s.

“He’s a wonderful, giving guy, and he said let me know if I can help you guys out,” Mr. Conley said. “We said we live here on the Vineyard and we want to help Community Services. He had a drinking problem in the past, so he was really excited about helping MVCS, to help people who had been in the same situation he had been in.

“So we got him to come up here, and because he was here I’m sure we got $5,000 more for the Dream.” The dream consisted of a ride in a two-seat Indy Car with Mr. Unser at more than 150 mph, a tour for four of the Pit and Paddock areas of the race course, and VIP passes for the three-day event. As a keepsake, the fireproof racing suit that Mr. Unser wore when he won the Vancouver Grand Prix in 1993 was added to the dream.

This last was just the cue for Barry Nolan to hop up and juice up the bidding. “You’ll be fireproof for life, go 1,000 mph, and never need to do anything exciting for the rest of your life,” he puffed, ignoring Mr. Reisman’s query about his blood pressure. “And if you get caught speeding on the way to Baltimore, you will be represented by Alan Dershowitz,” the well-known author and law professor who is a perennial donor and bidder at Possible Dreams Auctions. Mr. Dershowitz flashed the thumbs-up sign and roared with approval.

With Mr. Nolan’s boost and a last-second add-on of four tickets to the Pagoda at next year’s Indy 500, the bidding rose quickly until it topped out at $15,500, to the delight of the winner, John Bacheller of Vineyard Haven, and to the apparent disbelief of his wife, Wiet.

The item that drew the most money during the evening was a week-long “culinary adventure” in Provence hosted by Carol McManus, the chef, cookbook author, and owner of Espresso Love in Edgartown. The $25,000 might have been doubled, but no one stepped up at the same amount to claim Ms. McManus’ impromptu offer of a second trip.