Auctioneer looks back 50 years

By Larry L. Lavender - Guest columnist

Thankfulness plays an important part of my life this year as I reflect back on the memories during my 50th year as an auctioneer.

In my tenure as an auctioneer, I’ve experienced a lot and seen a lot in the past 50 years. I can remember the first time — I was 8 — my father took me to my first auction in Springfield, at an auction house where he bought my first phonograph from Richard Gundolf, auctioneer. Mr. Gundolf was my best friend’s dad. His son was Steven D. Gundolf. Later I named my first-born after him when he was killed in Vietnam. We played together and grew up together. I can still remember riding in the back seat of Mr. Gundolf’s car, going to the movies every Friday night. His wife worked at the “Five and Ten” store on the square in Troy. He would pick her up at 9 p.m. and then come to the Mayflower theater and pick up Steve and me. We would then go to Menscik’s Steak House and have dinner before going home. That was our every-Friday-night ritual. As we rode in the car going into town, I can still hear Steve’s dad say, “See those fence posts?” He would then proceed to go through his auction chant, counting every fence post (5-10-15-20). He would then speed the car up and his chant would be faster and faster. That would always fascinate me. Needless to say, here is where I developed the love for the auction business. Later on, Steve and I worked for his dad.

I worked my first auction as a ringman in Tipp City, the last house on the right when leaving town. After that, when working for a law firm in Dayton, Smith and Schnaeke, I would come home in the evening and work at an auction barn being a ringman and clerk for Gundolf, Mahan and Crookshank, auctioneers on Dye Mill Road in Troy. It was then one night a light bulb lit up in my head, and I said, “Why am I being a clerk and a ringman when I could be doing the auctions as an auctioneer?” I later practiced in the cattle barns, goofing off and trying to develop a chant of my own at the Miami County Fair. I even went around and listened to the best auctioneers, picking a small piece out of their chant and incorporating it into my chant. I later shortened the word “dollar” to “bid” so I could sell more merchandise in a limited period of time.

I volunteered doing every charitable auction I could get my hands on: churches, little league football, little league baseball, Jaycees, Kiwanis clubs, Optomist clubs, Rotary groups, Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I even volunteered to do the Troy Jaycee auction for 25 years and also the Troy Chamber auction for 27 years. I did everything to get my name in front of the public. From doing so, I received the Distinguished Service Award from the Troy Jaycees in 1985 for raising over a million dollars for nonprofit groups.

I never had to go to school to learn the auction profession. I just had to get a sponsor, so I wrote a letter to Larry L. Lewis in Bellfontaine, and since my name was Larry L. Lavender, I told him I thought we would make a good team since our initials were (LLL). He told me to come to Heatherly’s auction barn, and he wanted to hear me. From that point I was on my road to success! I went to Columbus to take my apprentice test, it was 70 percent written and 30 percent oral. The room was filled with everyone wanting to become an auctioneer. I was scared until I heard some of them selling. Then I said, “I can do this!” I had to draw an item out of a hat, and I drew two gate-legged tables with claw feet. I had to describe them, telling the crowd, “You are buying them by the piece, two times the money.” I got my apprentice license and after doing 12 sales under my sponsor, went back and took another test and got my auctioneer’s license back in 1968 at the age of 21.

When working, I would always live by the two-letter words in a phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me!” I would always say it and realize that there was no need to ask for help as I have to do it myself anyway. It took me a good eight years to get established and get my name out there. I sponsored several others wanting to get their licenses. After being an independent and got busier, I took Paul Gearhardt on as a team player. We then took on Brian Evans and later, Scott Pence. The business name went from Lavender & Gearhardt to Lavender/Gearhardt/Evans to Lavender/Gearhardt/Pence. Later on, as Hobart Corp. was laying off employees, I started working full time in the business. Chuck Allen, of advanced machinery, approached me and wanted me to sell for him. Chuck later took sick and that didn’t pan out as well so I started working with 22 other auctioneers just to survive. I gained a lot of experience and still worked with Paul and Scott, some. I always found ways of promoting the auction business. When I was in the Troy Jaycees I put out a newsletter, calling it the “GAVEL” meaning Get A Valuable Experienced Leader and tieing it in with my auction business. When I was membership commissioner, district vice-president, past president and Ohio Jaycees Blue/Gold Chip Officer, we were from District C-2 and when they called out our district, I gave everyone little gavels, and we would pound them on tables letting them know we were the “Gaveleers.” I even carved out a larger gavel and hung a gold plate on it calling it the “LAFUYA” award. I told every chapter I went into, if they could steal it away from me in meetings, I would come back the next week and award them with a case of pop or beer of their choice to instill enthusiasm. Oh course I would turn my head when I saw them going for it. I awarded the gavel at the end of the year to the chapter that excelled the most. The award meant, pardon my expression, “Light a fire under your ass!”

I tried many gimmics to be known locally in the auction business. I can remember when working with Doug Paden, we did over 250 auctions that year together. Some were small and some large, but Doug was a lot like me. He once worked for Hobart Brothers and went out on his own after Hobart to become a full-time auctioneer. The most experienced auction I did was selling out Community Hospital in Springfield with Ron Johnson, Bill Waddle and Richard Edwards. Good did not come out of that though, as Ron Johnson had a stroke from it. I commended him for his efforts on taking on such a large project.

I’ve really been blessed in my lifetime through my many auctions. I’m thankful for all the support from the public in attendance and following my sales. For this, I thank all of you for coming to my auction sales and supporting my many clients. It’s been fun. Some come for the friendship of others; some come to buy and collect for their own; some just come to eat off my concession wagons. Some, on the other hand, come to experience new things they have never seen in their lifetime; some come just to hear our jokes; and the list goes on and on. It’s good to see all your faces. You are like family, and I’ve enjoyed it all. You are never too old to learn!

Speaking of family, my family has always been involved and supportive of me, whether moving items, clerking, cashiering, setting up the sales, tearing them down, doing my concessions when I could not find someone to do them or just bringing the grandkids and eating off my concessions on my nickel! It’s always good seeing them have fun. I would not have it any other way. Thank you all.

Fifty years is a long time to be in business. Some people don’t even live that long. For this I’ve been truly blessed. My son, Steve, is trying to get his license, but he may not get it this year due to scheduling. But he’s following through, so I’m turning the gavel over to him since it is my 50th year. He can carry on the business name and pursue his goals. I’m not quitting the business. I’m just slowing down and I want to be by his side as he did me. We always made it a family affair. My other two boys, Chad and Ron, always lent a helping hand also.

I’ve always worked two and three jobs all my life. My Dad gave me wisdom. He always told me, “If you are going to work more than one job, always make sure they are all different. That way you will never get tired of doing the same thing.” I’ve been an accountant for 35 years at Hobart Corp., a fiscal officer in my township for 24 years and an entrepreneur for 11 1/2 years as part-owner of the Classic Beauty Salon in Troy. I’ve enjoyed every minute of them.

I’ve seen many changes over the years. I saw the era of Avon, typewriters, computers, Internet, Beanie Babies, furniture when it hit its highs and lows, rotary phones to cell phones, antiques to painted furniture, wringer washing machines to automatic washers and dryers, among lots of other things! I’m in my fourth generations of family buyers, and I’m sure it will continue to change after me. I’ve learned from all of you, enjoyed everyone just to see what you were interested in buying. It was always fun, rewarding and I enjoyed meeting all of you. Thanks for the experience!

Thank the Lord for letting me continue as long as I have and I hope a lot longer. Special thanks goes out to Richard Edwards and Perry Conley for allowing me to work with them at my age. I love the jokes and fun we always have.

If you’ve never heard Leroy Vandike sing the auctioneer’s song, you need to listen to him, as he was my inspiration!

Thanks for letting me share my story.

By Larry L. Lavender

Guest columnist

The writer has called many Shelby County auctions.

The writer has called many Shelby County auctions.