One thing you can count on: Rotary success

In an age of diminishing expectations – of buying power, affordable health care, retirement at a still-vigorous age, world peace, the very survival of the planet – you can still count on the Rotary Auction to prosper.

Year after year, the giant auction and rummage sale transcends assumptions and achieves some unforeseen height. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, local attics disgorge something bigger, better, more precious or just plain weirder – and more of same – and the event raises more money still. The newspaper headline “Rotary Auction sets new record” has become a cliche.

But was this always true? Believe it or not, there was at least one year when auction returns actually went down: that was Year 2, 1961.

Bainbridge Rotarians dreamed up the auction in 1960 to raise funds for the new public library building. Fortified by such then-practical donations as 20 feet of free well drilling, five sheep, a side of beef and a hand plow (to which the buyer said he planned to hitch up his wife), and more exotic fare like a stuffed seal, a human skull with moveable jaw and an “adult pogo stick” (stout enough to bounce a 250-pounder), the inaugural event raised a reported $4,000. That grand success naturally ensured that there would be a second auction.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are lost to time, Rotarians neglected the second year to ask Winslow merchants to donate “expensive new items” to be auctioned off for the cause (this time, furniture for the library building which by then had broken ground). That apparent oversight – and the fact that no one donated another parcel of precious land, which the year before brought in $1,000 at gavel’s bang – hurt the day’s returns. Islanders did chip in the usual exotica, including a 6-foot totem pole, a full bear-skin rug, waffle irons both electric and “the old fashioned kind,” chicken feeders, the obligatory toilet seat, and half of Rotarian Charles Elicker’s mustache. (Amongst the day’s follies, one husband and wife, separated across the crowded auction hall, unknowingly bid against each other for the totem pole. By the time they realized their folly – “Is that you bidding against me, Henry?” Doris Larson called across the room, to the amusement of the assembly – they’d run the price up to a princely $41. Good sports to the last, the Larsons paid full price and took it home.) Nonetheless, the 1961 receipts fell off by some 25 percent, possibly the last time the auction hit such a lull.

The Bainbridge Island Rotary Auction and Rummage is upon us once again, meaning it’s time to start going through the garage, the attic, the basement to round up items for donation. Then as now, all proceeds benefit community causes and projects. Five things you should remember:

• Donation drop-off at Woodward Middle School starts at 7:30 a.m. June 27.

• Drop-off ends at dusk July 3.

• The live auction and rummage preview starts at 4 p.m. July 6.

• The giant rummage runs 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 7.

• The merchant silent auction begins today, with the catalog online at

Last year’s event grossed $380,000. A better return still, you can almost count on.