Volunteers drive success at Lyle Area Cancer Auction

Published 4:02 am Monday, January 18, 2016

Gary Harrison tries to get John and Janelle Achenbach to make another bid on a Cub Cadet lawnmower toy Friday night during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction in Lyle. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Gary Harrison tries to get John and Janelle Achenbach to make another bid on a Cub Cadet lawnmower toy Friday night during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction in Lyle. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

During the 37th Lyle Area Cancer Auction this Friday and Saturday, hundreds of volunteers both on stage and behind the scenes served as the gears and pistons powering the auction forward.

As the cancer auction returned to the Lyle Legion and the city’s maintenance building, those volunteers were hard at work fighting cancer by raising money through the Fifth District Eagles Cancer Telethon.

That’s nothing new, as volunteers drive all of the Lyle Area Cancer (LAC) events throughout the year, but co-chair Larry Ricke said all the volunteers are special.

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“It doesn’t matter if you volunteer your services for one hour or you volunteer your services for 12 months, you helped, and it’s very greatly appreciated,” he said.

While many LAC volunteers are easily recognizable in denim LAC shirts or in LAC sweatshirts, many more contribute in some way throughout the year and are content to attend the auction, watch and bid on items.

Ricke and other committee members tried coming up with a list of volunteers a few years ago. They stopped counting at 400.

“A lot of people have been touched by this deadly disease, and we’re going to continue to fight it until it’s cured,” Ricke said.

Ricke told the story of a friend from the Medford area who comes to the auction to help out. After a group canceled on a kitchen shift, Ricke called the man last week and quickly arranged a group to fill in.

“He said, ‘I want to do something to help people, and that’s what I’m going to do,’” Ricke said.

Ricke and others behind Lyle Area Cancer are also always encouraging to people’s ideas to raise money.

“We tell people if you got an idea, if you want to do something, do it,” Ricke said. “We’re there to support you.”

One volunteer still sticks out in Ricke’s mind: Tracy Schilling. She formed the Halfway to January Cancer Bash and became an inspiration to her LAC friends and family for her strength and resiliency during her battle with cancer. She passed away in late 2014.

“When I die, I hope to God I can fill the church like she did,” Ricke said.

But Ricke said it’s taken countless volunteers and support to get the auction to where it is today.

“We’ve raised over $2.2 million,” Ricke said while kicking off the auction on Friday. “I don’t care what anybody says, that’s a lot of money.”

Volunteer Christine Nelson holds up a jar of pickles during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction Friday night  in Lyle.  Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Volunteer Christine Nelson holds up a jar of pickles during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction Friday night in Lyle. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Here is a quick look at just a few of LAC’s hundreds of volunteers:

Jessie Meyer

Jessie Meyer of Lyle has been involved with LAC events for about 15 years and is a past co-chair.

Her cousin, Deb Igou, helps run Spin for a Cure, a cycling event at SASS in St. Ansgar, Iowa. Each year, at least one rider does an all-day spin, which has then riding throughout the entire 13-hour event. Meyer tackled that duty last February to raise money for this year’s auction. While she had about 10 minute breaks after the 45 to 50 minute classes, she wasn’t just pedaling at a slow pace all day. She was completing climbs, jumps, sprints and more with the other riders.

“My body was spent,” she said.

Despite being exhausted, Meyer said it was an inspiring day, and she recalled riding with one woman who was fighting brain cancer.

“It was a blast,” she said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

This year’s Spin for a Cure will be Feb. 19 and 20 at SASS in St. Ansgar to raise money for the 2017 auction.

“I don’t think it’s about any one individual person, it’s about the group as a whole,” she said.

Meyer noted the auction has spread to several communities and is simply a part of many people’s lives now.

“The success is in all of the people, not just one person, not just one group,” she said.

Meyer also said her involvement with LAC is a way to continue remembering Schilling, her aunt, who formed the Halfway to January Cancer Bash and passed away in late 2014.

“It’s kind of a good way to honor her,” she said.

The barn builders

For the fifth year in a row, a group joined forces to construct a model wood barn to be sold at the auction.

Vance Erie and Cork Unvergazt built the barns, while Diane Pitzen completed the artwork on the barn, and Erie’s brother-in-law, Bruce Buckhart, wired the barn with lights.

“It’s kind of a collaborative effort,” Erie said.

Last year, the barn sold for $3,400. Along with bringing in money for LAC, another barn sold for more than $2,000 at Sacred Heart School in Adams.

All who built the barns have a connection to cancer. Unverzagt battled cancer, but is in remission. Erie has battled skin cancer, and his wife and daughter also faced cancer.

“That’s why we keep building them,” Erie said.

One year, someone bought the barn for a one year old. But in other years, the barns have sold to adults who often use them to display model or toy tractor collections.

Marge Nelson

Marge Nelson of Lyle was at the auction a few years ago when she saw Crop for the Cure, a scrapbooking event, pledge $9,000.

That got her thinking about ways she could use her love of quilting to bring people together and raise money to fight cancer, and she brought her idea to the LAC committee leaders.

“Larry Ricke said, ‘Just do it,’” she recalled.

Nelson was hoping to pledge a big total for her third year after Quilt for a Cure raised $2,300 its first year and about $4,300 last year.

“We’re hoping we beat that this year,” she said.

They were scheduled to pledge their totals at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Along with raising money to fight cancer, the event serves as a chance for quilters to share some ideas and a good time.

“It’s just a fun time to get together and quilt,” Nelson said. “All of us like to quilt, and it’s fun to see what everyone else is working on.”

Quilters at the event traditionally make a quilt during the event that’s auction at the auction. This year’s is called Lucky Stars and features a star on each block. People can sponsor the quilt by buying a block.

Past quilts have sold for more than $700.

Nelson’s husband was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. While he’s doing well, she said it’s another motivation to keep raising money.

“It keeps you mindful of wanting to find a cure,” she said.

Nelson was one of several LAC volunteers who got to tour The Hormel Institute last year to see some of the ways money raised through the auction is used.

But the auction, like Quilt for a Cure, is often about bringing people together for a common purpose.

“It’s a good thing,” she said. “It gets the community together. It’s just a good cause.”

Auctioneer Mick Brooks calls the first item up for bid during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction Friday night in Lyle. Eric Johhnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Auctioneer Mick Brooks calls the first item up for bid during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction Friday night in Lyle. Eric Johhnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Brian Davis

Brian Davis of Lyle is doing his part to brew up money.

Davis, whose home brewing operation is called Gravity Storm Brewery, started taking donations for his brewed beer at the auction about six years ago.

“It’s such a cool event, and I was just thinking, How can I help?” he said.

He offers his Lyle pale ale and other brews, mostly named after Jimmy Buffett songs, up to people attending the auction, along with root beer.

Davis said his brewing skills have proved a good way to contribute to the Lyle Area Cancer.

“It’s such a neat environment,” he said. “It’s just so fun to be involved.”

Jeff Ramaker

Jeff Ramaker of Lyle has been volunteering with LAC along with his wife, Georgia, since the early 2000s.

They’ve been involved with several events over the years, including the haunted barn, Concert for a Cure and more. He helped with CD and DVD sales to raise money featuring the song “Remember Then,” which many consider Lyle Area Cancer’s theme song. It was written in memory of Jeff’s brother, Delmar, who died after battling cancer. His sister, Susan Pater, also died after battling cancer.

Jeff praised LAC for promoting a close, family atmosphere. Those families and volunteers come together for the auction, for key events, meetings and even some cookouts and other such get-togethers.

“You get pretty close with all the other members and all the other families,” he said. “You make a lot of friends. It’s a close knit group.”

Along with the lifelong friendships, Jeff said he’s always pleased to see new volunteers getting involved with LAC.

“It’s nice to see them excited about the cause,” he said.

Todd McCabe

Todd McCabe of Adams attended the auction for several years before it led him to volunteering.

After great experiences at the auction, he heard about a couple that picked up donations in the Adams and Rose Creek areas and offered to help.

He’s volunteered for about six years by picking up donations from the Adams area and selling tickets for the Harley raffle.

McCabe stops by businesses to get donations, but he’ll have people come up to him in the street with cash donations for the auction, and he remembers one man thanking McCabe for seeking out donations.

“He looked at me and said, ‘I thank you for what you do,’ and he meant it,” McCabe recalled.

“That made me feel good, I guess,” he added.

Along with cash, McCabe comes away with his van full of toys, bikes, tools worth as much as $300, and other items that he drives to the auction.

“It’s such a good feeling to pick up stuff and to see people donate,” he said.

Each year brings many memories, but McCabe recalled his favorite being when Sharon Cimmiyotti’s family decided to forgo Christmas presents the year after her death to instead donate money to LAC.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” he said.

McCabe praised families like the Zieglers, Rickes and Slowinskis and everyone involved in the auction for their hard work, along with the dozens who present money and bid each year.

“It just blows me away,” he said.

Russ Bissen

Like many who now volunteer, Russ Bissen started as a bidder at the auction for 15 to 20 years.

“I always wanted to go to it and years ago I went, and I just liked sitting there, bidding on stuff,” he said.

Bissen, who lives west of Stacyville, Iowa, bought the Canada fishing trip several times at the auction for around $700. He also enjoys bidding to raise the value during the auction, but he often tries to stop bidding before he’s left with the bill. He has been caught more than once, however.

“It goes to a good cause,” he laughed.

Along with bidding at the auction, Bissen goes to businesses seeking donations, gift certificates and auction items, and he’ll help out in whatever way he can.

He called it a rewarding and fun to participate with many good people.

Christine Nelson

Christine Nelson of Austin started volunteering with LAC in 2011 because she wanted to be part of finding a cure to cancer.

“Cancer’s horrible. It needs to be cured,” she said.

Nelson has been a runner at the auction, walking down the center aisle to find bidders. She’s also helped clerk and help out however needed. She also helps solicit donations.

As a runner at the auction, Nelson enjoys a position that keeps her moving even when she starts getting tired as the auction continues into the early morning hours.

Knowing how much cancer affects people and the good work LAC accomplishes, it was an easy decision to get involved.

“It’s just the fact that I can help out,” she said. “I have a part I can play.”

Jeff Yocom

Jeff and Joan Yocom, who live south of Austin, have been involved with Lyle Area Cancer for about 15 years, but have been attending the auction since the 1980s.

The Yocoms help out at the auction, seek out donations and auction items, attend committee meetings, they’ve run the iPad Raffle, used to run a four-wheeler raffle, and help out where they can.

The Yocoms got involved after many friends and family members battled cancer.

“Everybody’s kind of touched by cancer in one way or another,” Jeff said.

Joan’s parents, Chuck and Dorothy Berg, were known for their items that raking in high bids at the auction — Dorothy for pies and breads, and Chuck for his woodworking.

When seeking donations for the auction, Jeff said it’s relatively easy since most people are familiar with Lyle Area Cancer and what it’s accomplished.

“Its amazing how far this has come,” he said.

Jeff praised all the committee members for their willingness to always try new events and step up when needed.

“There’s always somebody in the group that will get it done,” he said.

“People keep stepping forward, and that’s all you can ask,” he added.

Jeff urged people to come down and check out the auction. Once you come down, he said, you don’t want to stop.

“It’s one of them things that just keeps you coming back for more,” he said.