Investing in a cure

For 33 years the Lyle Cancer Auction has sold everything, including the shirts off people’s backs, all in the fight against cancer. Herald file photo

In part, it’s that giving spirit that has carried the Lyle Area Cancer Auction through 33 years and helped raise more than $1.6 million for cancer research.

Carl Shirk, left, with Gary Harrison looks to a bidder for the nod while auctioning a ham during the Lyle Area Cancer Auction Saturday in Lyle. Herald file photo

“It’s like no other auction,” said Slowinski, one of the LAC co-chairs. “I can’t even think of words to describe this auction.”

The Lyle Area Cancer Auction returns for its 34th year of raising money for cancer research which will be on Jan. 18 and 19, with the auction running 6 p.m. to around midnight or 1 a.m., before starting back up at 11 a.m. Saturday and running until the last item is sold.

The auction set another record by raising $171,000 last year. If the auction surpasses $100,000 this year, it would mark 10-straight years the auction has raked in six figures.

But, organizers say they simply want to raise as much money as possible this year, as Slowinski said the committee hasn’t set a goal for the year.

Co-chair Larry Ricke described the auction as an event people need to see to believe, adding that he and other leaders do their best to make it fun.

“If you’re going to raise money for something, why not have fun doing it,” Ricke said.

Each auction sees seemingly mundane items rake in big donations, like a jar of pickles selling for more than $100. One year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an auctioneer sold a sweatshirt he was wearing that commemorated the tragedy. Since, that sweatshirt has been bought and returned to the auction multiple times.

Slowinski said there’s rarely buyer’s remorse, since the money is going toward a good cause.

“When it comes to something like this, everybody comes together,” she said.

This year, LAC leaders are planning to receive $5,000 from a Waltham resident who left money to the auction in a will. Ricke said this is the first time LAC has received a donation from a will.

Ricke said people need to come to the auction to see it for themselves.

“We try to get as many people involved as possible, because everybody knows cancer touches everybody on this planet,” Ricke said.

  Space to grow

The auction has truly become a culmination of the year’s worth of fundraisers, events and efforts to seek a cure.

LAC has expanded beyond being just an auction, as a number of events like the Halfway to January Cancer Bash, the Farmboy Barbecue, Red, White and Pink, the Harley raffle and more add to the monetary totals each year.

Volunteer and former LAC co-chair Gary Ziegler sees those events as one reason the auction has grown.

“It’s far more as just an auction,” he said, a former co-chair of the auction.

Ziegler, who’s been involved since 1995, works with the Harley raffle and other events each year.

Ricke sees another reason the auction has grown in the last decade: Moving the auction from the Lyle Legion to the city maintenance building next door.

“Ever since we have used that maintenance building, we’ve been in the 6-digit figures,” he said. “That has made just an astronomical difference in our numbers.”

When the auction was held in the legion, Ricke said it was cramped and some people wouldn’t come.

“You could not get in that dining hall,” he said. “It was so packed.”

The city’s maintenance building offers far more space for volunteers and bidders, offering space for the auction and room for growth.

“It’s a godsend, really,” Ricke said.

The auction has raised $1.6 million in its history, and Ricke said $1 million of that has been in the last 10 years, largely thanks to the added space.

 Economy proof?

When the economy took a sour turn a few years ago, Slowinski said she and other committee members feared it could affect donations.

But, Slowinski said she was blown away to see it keep growing, something she attributes to the fact that cancer has touched everyone’s lives.

Slowinski lost her father, Loren Dunn, to cancer, and her mother, Sandy Dunn, is a cancer survivor.

“It’s just scary to think of how many people cancer affects,” she said.

Likewise, Ricke agreed that many people are driven to combat the terrible disease of cancer.

That may show in the number of volunteers involved in LAC, as Ricke said he counted at least 300 to 400 volunteers, including people who even help in a small way.

“Since it’s gotten so much bigger and with the great reputation that we have, so many more volunteers have stepped up,” Ricke said, adding he’s thankful for all the help each year.

Even many churches help out by donating bars and cookies to serve at the auction.

“If you make a cake and donate it to the auction, you’re a volunteer,” Ricke said.

 Local dollars

The dollars from the auction stay locally, going to places like the Hormel Institute, the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.

Ricke urged people to tour the Hormel Institute, and said he’s amazed scientists are doing world-renowned research here in the community.

“They’re fighting it for us, and we just have to do the little stuff to try to bring the money in for cancer research, so they can expand and do more things,” he said.

While Ricke spoke highly of the Institute, he said having it nearby doesn’t necessarily boost the auction’s earnings.

“I think it’s because [cancer has] touched so many people’s lives,” he said. “They could have a cancer research facility in Europe, and we’d still raise money for them to fight cancer.”


Organizers see progress being made, as Slowinski said organizers have seen friends and loved ones survive cancer thanks to new, ground-breaking treatments.

“We have seen the effects of the money that we’ve raised,” she said.

One of these days, Ricke said, scientists will find a cure for cancer, but the giving spirit will likely still go on in Lyle.

“Then we’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to raise money for next,” Ricke said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Money raised by the LAC

1980: $5,3181981: $7,479 1982: $4,943 1983: $6,500 1984: $8,000 1985: $9,000 1986: $7,250 1987: $10,500 1988: $12,000 1989: $9,961 1990: $8,178 1991: $9,424 1992: $10,058 1993: $10,508 1994: $9,150 1995: $8,500 1996: $10,928 1997: $9,599 1998: $15,000 1999: $15,500 2000: $27,200 2001: $45,200 2002: $81,200 2003: $92,500 2004: $127,200 2005: $111,000 2006: $127,800 2007: $115,000 2008: $120,000 2009: $118,000 2010: $119,000 2011: $138,000 2012: $171,000

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