By DAVID GREEN
The rookies in the crowd must have thought my wife was nuts when she raised her hand a couple of times and agreed to pay 50 bucks for a little wooden workbench. Made in China, of course, but formaldehyde free, fortunately. Those industrious Chinese factory bosses aren't always kind enough to have such consideration. After all, it's just American children who will be using these mass-produced products.
I think I've drifted off topic already and I certainly haven't given much of a hint to what I'm talking about.
Most of you have never been to and never will attend an episode of the annual extravaganza known as the Morenci Education Foundation Dinner and Auction. Let me fill you in.
The event is scheduled every year about this time in the fashionable school cafeteria. If you walk in too late, the tables will be rapidly filling and you try to find a place to sit with someone you wouldn't mind spending an evening with. And, similarly, you try to avoid the tables that...come on, admit it. Everyone does it. You don't want to spend a long evening with just anyone, do you?
My wife found the perfect spot. Six openings—two for us, two for my parents, and two for Joanne Singles-Rotzien and her daughter, Cindy. Naomi Speelman and her daughter were already at the table and were saving space for no one.
Out of sight in the kitchen, Deanna Kuebeck and family were hard at work preparing the catered meal. High school Volunteer Club members were meanderin about the crowd offering beverages.
Finally the Dinner King Bill Van Valkenburg welcomed the crowd and announced that it was about time to eat. I think Bill has used a variety of techniques to release a table or two to the serving line over the years, but he's settled into a tried and true method: He picks up one of his grandkids and casually strolls to a table and tells them to get moving, then goes to another table and sends them off, etc. Saturday night brought a record crowd and Bill had many tables to visit.
Following the meal, the Distinguished Alumni were introduced one by one, starting with the eldest. My father noted that he remains the overall eldest from the 11 years of the program. There's a good chance he'll remain in that position, representing the Class of 1941.
In the early days of the program, I think the honored ones accepted their plaque, said "Thank you," and returned to their seat. I can't remember who was first to actually give an acceptance speech, but I remember it coming as somewhat of a shock, at least to me. It was probably more of a shock to the alumnus who followed. "What? No one told me we had to make a speech!"
Somehow over the years it’s evolved into standard practice. Now it's rare when someone merely says "Thank you." There have been long, rambling speeches, heartfelt speeches, short to-the-point speeches, entertaining speeches. I remember when one clown interviewed himself by telephone, switching ears depending on whether he was himself or the other guy.
Saturday night brought a variety of responses, including a new record for length and I think the first instance of an impromptu church service. The speeches were good and the alumni were truly distinguished. It's always impressive to consider the achievements of Morenci graduates. Local boy (and girl) does good, over and over again.
And then comes the auction and the first wave of people fleeing for the exit door.
The first item up for bid was a child's workbench. Colleen, the grandmother, already had it marked on her auction item list as a possible purchase. I don't recall that she had a lot of competition at all. It takes a while to get things going, I suppose. Auctioneer Duane Dunbar let her have it for $50.
Next up was the child's artist easel. That was marked on her list, also, and this cost her a 90 bucks. The first-timers must have really known she was crazy now. They had yet to learn that someone would pay $60 for a cake, $125 for a lot of chewing gum, $40 for a dozen dinner rolls, etc. The value of the item has little to do with the price paid; it's all about donating to the foundation's scholarship fund. Some people get a bargain; others pay four times the true value of an Observer subscription.
I wonder if this year's bid on a week vacation in Kim and Nancy Valentine's Devils Lake Cottage set a single-item record at $1,400. I wonder if Kim and Nancy will still be there hanging out during the week.
The only thing that makes the unbearably long auction bearable is Col. Dunbar and his auctioneer’s mouth. He always wears a headband with fake hair on top and he always gives his characteristic "heh, heh, heh" laugh and he always lets loose with an inappropriate comment or two that makes it all worthwhile.
It was nearing 10 p.m. when someone paid $60 for a "Get out of jail free" card, offered just ahead of the Hopi Kachina doll that the donor bought back herself. "What does it do?" Duane asked about the Kachina doll. "It gets you out of jail free," someone in the audience answered.
I couldn't resist. The next morning I had to look up the value of Colleen's new artist set sold through MerchSource, purveyor of fine Chinese goods. $49.95, plus a collection of art supplies. She paid almost double. And the MerchSource child's workbench? A cheap on-line distributer offers it for $79.99. She got a bargain on that one. And, as always, some Morenci graduates will have a little help with college costs.