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Benefit auctions abound in Ohio’s Amish Country

Handcrafted table by Bruce Stambaugh

A sample of the kind of furniture offered at benefit auctions in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Benefit auctions abound in Ohio’s Amish country. Every year thousands of people from near and far attend these worthwhile functions.

Dave Kaufman of Kaufman Realty, Sugarcreek, serves as auctioneer at many of the benefit auctions. He’s not surprised at the popularity of the events at all. He said the formula for their success is pretty simple.

“It’s a very giving, caring community,” Kaufman said. “If it’s a good cause, the auction will get good support.”

Kaufman estimated that there are at least 35 such benefit auctions in Amish country. Some are small, local auctions, like the ones for private Amish schools. Others draw big crowds and usually raise major money for their causes.

“If there is a need,” Kaufman said, “people come to the rescue.”

One of the largest benefit auctions is the Rainbow of Hope Auction in Mt. Hope. Henry Hershberger is its president and founder. This year’s sale is July 23 and 24 at the Mt. Hope Auction barn.

The sale has been a local mainstay since 1987 when Hershberger’s young daughter was hospitalized for two months. Hershberger is Amish and along with other members contributes to the church’s medical fund. But in this case, the fund was depleted before the bills were paid.

Hershberger turned to the community for help, which responded by raising the $20,000 balance of his medical bills. Touched by the generosity, Hershberger started the auction as a way to help others who might be in a similar situation.

“Our best auction was in 2008 when we totaled $403,735,” Hershberger said. He rattled off that figure from memory.

“We try to focus on the community to make it work,” Hershberger said. “It’s something the entire community can participate in.”

Like most other benefit auctions, Rainbow of Hope Auction depends on volunteer labor and donations of items for a successful sale. With furniture the biggest moneymaker, Hershberger said that the work of the furniture committee is key.

“We have about 25 people who canvas the community, hitting every furniture manufacturer and retail store for donations,” he said. “All the items are new.”

John Deere quilt by Bruce Stambaugh

Quilts like this one are often found at the benefit auctions held each summer in Ohio's Amish country.

Hershberger said they also auction quilts, gift certificates and other home and garden items. Hershberger stressed that the Rainbow of Hope fund is not just for Amish.

“Any resident in Coshocton, Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties can apply to the committee for financial help,” he said. “We may not be able to pay all of their bills, but we can help in some way.”

Hershberger said the Rainbow of Hope fund has never run out of money either. He said the committee uses two percent for overhead.

“The other 98 percent is used for those who need it,” Hershberger said. He has served as chair of the auction for 20 years.

Another popular benefit auction is the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale, which will be held August 6 and 7 this year in Kidron. Last year, the sale raised $338,653 for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

MCC is the relief, service and development agency of North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. Several such sales are held throughout North America annually. The Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale is typical of those auctions.

Baby quilt by Bruce Stambaugh

A baby quilt typical of the kind auctioned off. My wife, Neva, made this one for our granddaughter.

Once again, the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale will feature a varied schedule of events. Everything from food to children’s activities to the auction items themselves will be included. Even a USA Track and Field certified Run for Relief will be held to help raise money for MCC projects worldwide.

Another big benefit auction in the area is the Ohio Haiti Sale, also held at the Mt. Hope Auction in Mt. Hope. This year’s sale, which will have special meaning given the catastrophic January earthquake in Haiti, will be held on Labor Day weekend, September 3 and 4.

A small quilt by Bruce Stambaugh

This is another example of the kinds of quilts available at charity benefit auctions.

This sale is also one of several held around the country for the benefit of those in need in Haiti. The Ohio Haiti sale was also begun in 1987. It, too, takes a coordinated effort of many volunteers and donated items to raise funds.

Food, fun and fellowship enhance the actual auctioning of items at the Haiti sale, just like all the other benefit auctions that predominate the summer months annually in Ohio’s Amish country.

This article first appeared in the June 2010 edition of Ohio’s Amish Country.

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Glenn Wengerd and Winesburg, Ohio: A natural fit

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh

Glenn Wengerd showed off one of the many cars he has restored.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Glenn Wengerd, 61, is about as unassuming as a person can be. Dapper, sophisticated, egotistical are words that would never describe him.

That is just fine with the Winesburg native. Wengerd is as down home, easy going and likeable of an individual as you will ever meet. Of course, Wengerd would be too humble to say such things about himself. But that is typical Glenn Wengerd, too.

Wengerd is a life-long resident of Winesburg, a quaint unincorporated town tucked in the northeast corner of Holmes County. Although Winesburg has had its characters over the years and at one time had seven bars, it is no comparison to Sherwood Anderson’s famous novel “Winesburg, Ohio.”

Having spent his entire life in the picturesque village, which now has no saloons, Wengerd has known many of those characters over the years. He calls them “old-timers.”

Wengerd remembers riding his tricycle up and down the sidewalks of Winesburg as a toddler, and being teased by some of the town fathers.

“The old-timers would stop me by putting the hook of their canes into my bike’s spokes,” he recalled with a chuckle. Later the “old-timers” would visit him in his restoration shop just to sit and chat while he worked.

But Wengerd doesn’t linger or even live in the past. He helps preserve it. As a

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh

Glenn Wengerd displayed his latest restoration project, a stove for a local museum.

profession, he restores antique cars and other assorted old items. Putting the finishing touches on an old potbellied stove for the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek was his latest sidebar.

He restores antique toys and bicycles as a hobby. Wengerd even dedicated a rather large room in his 1897 residence on Main Street to house all his entertaining restorations. He holds open houses occasionally, including this coming September during the Winesburg Reunion, which happens every five years.

It is here where Wengerd really shines. He devotes untold hours helping the little town preserve itself for current and future generations to enjoy and appreciate. He has served as either President or Vice President of the Winesburg Historical Society for 25 years.

“The funny thing about that,” Wengerd said, “was that I agreed to join if I wasn’t an officer.” The group waited until the second year to name him their leader.

Prior to his deep involvement with the historical society, Wengerd served as president of the park board during the early development of the town’s recreational park. Today he gets a quiet contentment out of seeing people enjoy the shade of the trees he helped plant.

Wengerd’s roots go deep into the history of Winesburg. He owns the property his grandfather bought in 1949. His restoration shop was the chicken barn and carriage house.

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh

Glenn Wengerd stood by the plaque at his front door that showed all the owners of his 1897 home in Winesburg, Ohio.

As a child, Wengerd marked up the walls of his grandparents’ home with his tricycle tires. Now he lives in that same beautiful home, and according to Wengerd, he regrets being so reckless with his trike.

“We are trying to spruce up the house in preparation for the reunion,” he said, “and those marks are very hard to remove after all these years.”

The home’s exterior is also getting a fresh coat of paint, using the original color scheme as much as possible. To do that, he hired Nelson Roller, a local handyman who moved to Winesburg from West Virginia because he told his wife that “it felt like home.”

When Roller discovered his last name on the plaque that lists the past owners of Wengerd’s house, he inquired within. He went to the right person. The Rollers were among Winesburg’s first settlers. Nelson is likely a descendent.

Wengerd’s restoration efforts, however, go far beyond his own business and home. He has lead the effort through the Winesburg Historical Society to restore and relocate an old log cabin, Peter’s School and replicate the town’s original bandstand. All are set in a small park across from the town’s fire station.

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh

Glenn Wengerd restores toys and bicycles, which he has on display in his home.

Restoring the 1861 German Methodist Church building is the next project on the horizon. Wengerd said the historical society would like to see this undertaking completed in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War in 2011.

Dedicated as he is, Wengerd certainly doesn’t see his time, hard work or the interruptions as a bother. Just the contrary is true.

“It is a privilege to know, cultivate and hand down some of the local history,” he said. “Just recently people from Oregon and Maryland tracked me down about finding their roots here.”

Of course, Wengerd entertained their questions and invited them back for the reunion. That’s just the way Wengerd is, and Winesburg reaps the benefits.

This story first appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter on June 21, 2010.

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