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Memories of Rotary Auctions Past

November 1, 2017

Ted Bird
In the 1950's and 60's the Bennington Rotary Club had a custom of inviting a Junior from Bennington High School to attend their meetings and give them a five minute re-cap of what was going on at the high school (BenHi). Each Junior Rotarian attended meetings for one month, and then another one would take over. I was Junior Rotarian during the month of November 1956.

The club was getting ready for their annual auction which at the time was their major fundraiser of the year. It was held at the Bennington Armory and the auctioneer was Ron Siefert who donated his services. At this particular meeting, Gene Clark was giving his report on large gifts. Gene was an attorney and later to be a judge in Bennington, and a nicer man never lived. He started out by saying "Maurice Douglas has an old organ he doesn't want". There were a few titters and Gene realized his statement didn't actually sound right so he decided to improve on it. Over the next few minutes he said:

"Well it's not very big but it still works OK.

He (Maurice Douglas) didn't care for it much but Mrs. Douglas thought it still performed quite satisfactorily.

Mrs. Douglas also said she's seen bigger ones but there was nothing wrong with this one."

Of course each time Gene made a statement like that the laughter got louder and louder and finally he threw up his hands in disgust and sat down.

That has gone down in Rotary lore as the "Gene Clark Organ Speech". Another great Rotary Auction moment happened in the early 1960's when the founder and former owner of the Pennysaver and Rotarian George Hadwen had bought the Hotel Putnam. One of the things he wanted to do was to get rid of all the surplus room furniture on the third floor as business no longer warranted three floors of rooms, so he decided to donate many items to the Rotary Auction. Unfortunately it wasn't practical to take those beds, dressers, and chairs down two flights of stairs so it was decided to lower them by ropes and carry them across the parking lot to the Armory. So it was quite a project lowering all of the bed frames and headboards and footboards and bureaus and chairs out the back windows of the Hotel. But it was done and they made quite a contribution to the auction that year.

However George Hadwen had to go away on business so he wasn't at the auction, but his wife Marie did attend.

And when George got back to his home that evening, Marie was so excited about the old tables, dressers and chairs she had bought at the auction. Yup, you guessed it, the same ones that all the Rotarians had lowered from the third floor of the Hotel Putnam and lugged across the parking lot. And who knows, maybe the Rotary Auction might once again return to the Bennington Armory.

Author: Ted Bird
Sally Sugarman (Club Member & Windmill Editor)

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