Big Hearts, Big Money: Lyle Area Cancer Auction hits it big again

Published 6:50 am Tuesday, January 22, 2019

It was one lone golf ball – but if the item was small, it reaffirmed two big things about the Lyle Area Cancer Auction.

One, the auction beats with the hearts of generous donors and hard-working volunteers; and two, as Co-Chairman Larry Ricke said, “You just never know what will happen” at the annual event, held last weekend at the Lyle American Legion Post 105.

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And boy, was that the case with that golf ball.

The item, owned by a gentleman who died of cancer and whose funeral was held Saturday, sold for $850.

Even Ricke, who said the surprises that have popped up over the years are “almost a normal thing” – was still just short of stunned on Monday.

“That was quite a moment,” he said, as he recapped the 40th annual event which raised $170,500.

It was a weekend full of “wow” moments, he said.

A donor stopped Ricke at one point during the auction and handed him two tickets to the upcoming Garth Brooks concert.

“She said, ‘You sell these,’” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. When we said we had Garth Brooks tickets to sell, oh my Lord, the hands (of the auction bidders) were just a-flying.’” Ricke said the tickets sold for hundreds of dollars.

But that wasn’t all. The same donor – a longtime, generous supporter of the event, Ricke said — “stopped me again and handed me two more Garth Brooks tickets to sell.”

The place went wild, he said. Again, the tickets raised hundreds of dollars.

Georgia Ramaker, a long-term attendee of the Lyle Area Cancer Auction takes in the auction Saturday afternoon in Lyle.

This year’s event brought the four-decade total to just within a hair’s breadth of $3 million. Ricke said the event could still gather more fundraising proceeds – it would take about another $15,000 to reach the mark – and those still-unknown proceeds might push it over $3 million. Some fundraisers have yet to be held.

“But even if we don’t reach it, it sure will generate excitement for next year,” he said.

But in the end, it’s not so much about reaching a specific financial goal as it is making sure that everyone pushes in the same direction – to fight cancer in any way they can.

And that is where Lyle has really made its name in the fight against cancer.

Well, think of it this way: Lyle has a population of just over 500 and Ricke said over 400 volunteers worked on this year’s event.

“It sounds like a lot, and it is. But I talked to each of our committees, and asked them to list their people and that’s the number. When you figure all the people who work the event, pick up items for the auction, make food, get things ready, hold fundraisers – there’s kitchen help working right now whose names I don’t know,” he said. Ricke shares the chairmanship with Teresa Slowinski.

Galen Holst, commander of American Legion Post 105, said the growth in the number of volunteers and activities over the years has brought about the biggest change to the event. And he should know; he’s been involved since it was first held in the Legion. The event was held the first year in a local bar before it was moved to the Legion in the second.

Galen Holst has been a fixture at the Lyle Area Cancer Auction for years.

“Everything was held in here, in the beginning,” he said, referring to the Legion clubrooms. Today, a next-door city maintenance shop serves as the main auction floor, while the clubrooms are used to serve food, provide activities for kids and hold other contributing fundraisers during the auction. A fundraiser’s scrapbook has swelled a thickness of at least 8 inches, filled with clippings and photographs.

“I think the first year we had it here we raised, I don’t know, somewhere between $5,000 and $6, 000,” said Holst. (He’s correct – according to accounts from that first year at the Legion, $5,318 was raised).

The auction’s foundation of support has grown ever since, Holst said. Today, all sorts of fundraisers are held whose proceeds are donated to the auction pool, from the raffling off of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to a Farm Boy (Joe Rosenberg) BBQ feed, which last year raised $11,000 in just four hours. Others include the Carpenter (Iowa) pool tournament, Crop for a Cure, Quilting for a Cure and Cans for Cancer.

And while there are large items that gain a lot of attention – especially the motorcycle – some of the lesser-known items are sought after as well.

Take Georgia Ramaker’s caramel-covered Cheetos.

“Oh, they’re really good,” said Ramaker with a grin.

Ramaker said she has been contributing items to the auction for about the past 15 years. She also helps clerk at the auction and collects items to be sold.

How cancer touched the lives of loved ones is the motivating reason, she said. A brother-in-law died of colon cancer; breast cancer took a sister-in-law.

Her family members each year fill a tackle box with fishing tackle, which is then donated for auction along with a fishing pole in memory of her brother-in-law. Bird feeders are donated in memory of her sister-in-law. In addition to making food items – she also bakes banana bread – she makes some decorative items to donate.

“You get a little more passionate” about the auction when cancer touches your family, she said.

Another long-term attendee of the Lyle Area Cancer auction is Eva Corson of St. Ansgar, Iowa.

It’s the same motivation that prompted Eva Corson of St. Ansgar, a Lyle native, to get involved. She is a quilter who regularly donates her creations to the auction. On Friday, one of her quilts was purchased for $550.

“I had two brothers who had prostate cancer; my dad had prostate and kidney cancer,” she said. “I have a niece who is 38 and going through her second round with breast cancer.”

Her brother, Carey Martin of Rose Creek, regularly donates woodworking items for sale, too.

“We just like to help out,” she said.

And in Lyle, “helping out” means a lot – and reaps big rewards.

Holst said he was particularly impressed with the willingness of residents to come to the auction, despite weather and other commitments.

Not too many years ago, a blizzard hit the area and organizers considered postponing the event, so difficult was the travel.

Finally, everyone agreed that “even if only 10 to 15 people showed up, we were going to have it,” Holst recalled.

They needn’t have worried.

“We were packed that night,” he said. “Everyone came out.”