WAGCA celebrates 40 years

cutline: From left are members of the organizing committee for the first Waynesboro Area Gala Cancer Auction 40 years ago: Dave Logan, Charlie Strausburgh, Jeff Rhodes, holding a copy of the first catalog, and Lloyd Hamburger. At right is Bob Benchoff, who has been an auctioneer at nearly every event since then. NANCY MACE/FOR LOCAL NEWS

Charlie Strausbaugh spoke the words, “We’re hoping this becomes an annual event,” 40 years ago.

On April 9, that landmark will be observed as organizers host the final Waynesboro Area Gala Cancer Auction.

Strausbaugh was chairman of the first event, held in the Eagles Club Inc. in downtown Waynesboro, the host site for many years. In 1982, more than $7,000 was raised for the Franklin County Unit of the American Cancer Society as the community bid on more than 200 items ranging from a script from the soap opera, “General Hospital,” to a live lamb, and four singing telegrams from the Waynesboro Area Senior High School Wayneaires.

Bidders next month will add to the coffers of the community event, which has raised $2.5 million for cancer programs over the last 40 years.

It began with an idea

This year’s theme, “WAGCA 40 years Community Compassion Commitment,” was echoed by every member of the first organizing committee, including Ellen Ternes, who proposed the idea to hold an auction and was involved in the event for 10 years.

“I had been volunteering for the American Cancer Society in the Chambersburg office. For fundraisers, we asked individuals and businesses for donations. Around the same time, my in-laws in Sacramento, California, were telling me about a fundraiser auction that was being held to benefit the private Catholic high school their son attended. They made a ton of money and had a good time. It was a social event. So I thought, let’s talk to a few people in Waynesboro to see if we could do something like that.

“Charlie (Strausbaugh) and Jeff (Rhodes) said ‘Yeah. Let’s give it a shot. What have we got to lose?’ We came up with the idea of going around and asking businesses to donate something. People bought into it. We made three times what we made going into businesses and asking for money,” she added.

“In addition to it being a great, fun thing – people had a good time – it was important on two levels. First, it was such a wonderful display of the community coming together, and second, an opportunity for new people to come in and get involved over the years. That’s what has kept it going.

Moving forward with passion

“Denise Beck deserves so much credit,” said Ternes, who lauded the efforts of the former chairman and “all the people who chipped in and helped. She kept it going and made it even better.”  Beck, who battled cancer from 1980 until she died in 2016, started volunteering for the event in the mid-1980s and chaired the auction for about 15 years. “Not just for those in the community, but for anyone who has benefited from the funds raised, Denise Beck’s name needs to go into their hearts and prayers.” 

Lloyd Hamburger said when volunteers get together, he tends to be a little cynical. “It’s like, ‘OK, this is a good idea. Let’s find someone to do it.’  What really struck me was the group’s enthusiasm. It was a team effort to get the event up and rolling. Everybody wanted it to work and obviously it did,” offered Hamburger, who donated the $1,400 in proceeds from his 2016 motorcycle ride from Renfrew Park in Waynesboro to Renfrew, Canada, to the auction.

“As someone who is not a native (Hamburger was borough manager of Waynesboro for 33 years) and moved into town, one thing that always impressed me about Waynesboro was the ability of the folks to coalesce around an idea and make it work. People show up – United Way always meets its goal, or if the YMCA needs something – the community responds. That doesn’t happen in a lot of towns.” 

Jill Kessler has been chairman of the auction for 21 years and a member of the steering committee for 25 years. “As I’ve watched over the years, I see how this has hit home for a lot of people. We’ve been blessed with the support from the community – and outside the community – over the years, including all the corporations with no ties to Waynesboro that still continue to donate. It’s been a fun organization to be a part of and the total number of years members of the steering committee have participated is astounding.”

It takes a village

Bob Benchoff served as auctioneer the first year with the late Jerry Scruggs, and has missed only a couple events over the years. “I’ve always felt it was important to donate – use your talents and gifts to share with the community. During the first three years it was about how to do an auction from the auctioneers’ standpoint and we were able to help with that process. The committee really understood how to do it and eventually it became a well-oiled machine.

“Initially Jerry and I were involved in deciding the order of the sale, but because of the commitment of the committee members, they picked right up on it. It was such a joy just to show up and do the bid calling. Unfortunately, cancer is something that touches nearly everyone and the common denominator of this auction has been the organizers’ ability to recruit new volunteers and sustain original volunteers.”

Jeff Rhodes has missed just one year as announcer since the auction began. “Getting involved was a chance to get together with local people and be a part of something. (The theme) ‘Let’s put on a show’ kept growing. We thought it might last five years but it  just kept growing and getting more refined and larger, as we brought in more solicitors and got donations from beyond the Waynesboro area.”

Because of the overwhelming response from donors, a silent auction was added, according to Rhodes. He credited auction volunteers as well as student groups at Waynesboro Area Senior High School for their help to move and deliver items to the auction site. “It has been a real joy working with all of the people involved. With some groups there’s infighting and power struggles. This is a cohesive group of people that has cancer as the focus instead of personalities,” added Rhodes.

“From the start we did it correctly, had an honorary steering committee group that met and endorsed the auction every year, and the working committee did the work behind the scenes,” Strausbaugh noted. We wanted it to be one of the social events of the year and built on that over the years, offering lots of unique items.”

Dave Logan recalled that he had just moved to town in 1981 and was looking to get involved in the community. “Charlie approached me and I got on the committee that started it up,” Logan said, adding in the beginning, organizers weren’t sure how it would turn out, but the results speak for themselves.

WAGCA will accept items up to two days before the auction by calling Mike Beck, a member of the steering committee, at 717-762-0285. 

The Waynesboro Area Gala Cancer Auction will be held Saturday, April 9, at Green Grove Gardens, 1032 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle. Doors open at 3 p.m., the silent auction begins at 4 p.m., and oral bidding starts at 5:30 p.m.; admission is free.

Visit the  www.wagca.org for more information.

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