Lester Edgecomb leads a double life.
Monday through Friday, Edgecomb spends a great deal of his time alone, delivering mail on his rural route near Baldwin City. On weekends, he is often the center of attention, driving up the bids at one of the 25 to 30 auctions he and wife Carolyn, son Mark Edgecomb and friend Wendell Taul do each year as Edgecomb Auction Services.
Edgecomb’s two lives do intersect on the back roads of his mail route.
“I practice my chants every day,” he said. “Driving down the road mile after mile, I auction anything and everything. I sell anything that pops in my head. It’s like one guy said, ‘if you’re not gaining, you are losing ground.’”
It was behind the wheel of another vehicle in southwest Douglas County that a 16-year-old Edgecomb first began developing his auction voice.
“It all started when I was in the field on a John Deere,” he said. “I’d auction the tractor I was driving and the equipment I was pulling. I’d auction the tool box and the tools in it. When I got done with that, I’d look around for something else to sell.”
On his mail route this past week, Edgecomb may have practiced auctioning art and chocolate sweets as he prepares for his regular gig as auctioneer of the Lumberyard Arts Center’s annual Chocolate Auction.
“I’ve been doing it for 10 years or more — I forget when I started,” he said. “I get to see people and have fun. It’s a crowd you can have all kinds of fun with, and they laugh right back with you. You can harass them and do what you want. At a regular auction, people might take offense.”
Longtime Lumberyard Arts Center board member Sandy Cardens said although she, too, couldn't recall what year Edgecomb started, she did remember he made an immediate difference in the annual fundraiser.
“We made significantly more money when he started,” she said. “I would give him all the credit.” Edgecomb’s style makes him a star of the fundraiser as he establishes rivalries among bidders, chides husbands or wives for neglecting spouses before Valentine’s Day and sometimes adds his own little tax to a bid, Cardens said.
“He always picks on me, and says I bid more than I do,” she said. “He makes it fun for everyone. The thing I like is all he asks is that we give a donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which we do every year in his name.”
He has been doing the event long enough to know what items will bring top dollar, such as the chocolate pies Mary Jane Chubb makes each year or last year’s lithograph from Tom Russell, the late head of the Baker University art department who founded the Chocolate Auction 28 years ago with his wife, Alice Anne.
“It’s fun to sell a pie for $100 to $125,” Edgecomb said. “It has kind of went away from the chocolate and went more to art, which is OK. We’ve lost some of the people who did the chocolates. It would be nice if new people would step up to replace them.”
Edgecomb decided to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an auctioneer in 1983 when local auctioneer Claude Myers died. He started working in the business and went to a Kansas City auctioneering school.
“I was doing auctions before I went to school,” he said. “They teach you some things there, but if you can’t chant before you go to school, you won’t learn how in two weeks of classes.”
Before cutting back in recent years, he was busy nearly every weekend, working mostly within a 40- to 50-mile radius of Baldwin City.
The appeal of auctioneering is helping people through the power of competition, Edgecomb said.
“It’s a good feeling to help people get out of trouble,” he said. “I’ve had people who were in a real pinch, who got back on their feet. If you get people there for an auction and it gets competitive, you’ll make more money every time.”
The auctions that really excite Edgecomb are those he does for nonprofits. Among the charity events he works are the Mennonite Relief Sale at the State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson and a Topeka auction to benefit domestic violence shelters statewide. The Mennonite sale, which will be April 8-9, raised $530,000 last year.
“We try to do as many charity auctions a year as we possibly can,” he said. “It takes driving some miles, but it gives you a good feeling when you’re done. When having helped raise $80,000 for battered women and children — more than anybody thought they’d be able to raise — it makes you feel wonderful.”
Lumberyard Arts Center Chocolate Auction returns Sunday
The annual Chocolate Auction is returning Sunday to Baldwin City’s Lumberyard Arts Center.
The chocolate auction has been an annual fundraising tradition for Baldwin City arts efforts for 28 years.
Connie Deel, chocolate auction event chair, said the arts center, 718 High St., will open at noon Sunday for the Chocolate Auction so that those looking for the ideal Valentine’s Day gift can view what is available at the silent auction. Again this year, there will be a children’s table of silent auction items. Bidding on silent and children’s auction items will start at 12:30 p.m.
The live auction of donated art and sweets will start at 2 p.m., Deel said.
Arts center board member Sandy Cardens said most of the chocolate cookies, cakes, pies, pastries and candies won’t be donated until the last days before the event, but there are already a good deal of art pieces for auction.
“We have quite a few art things,” she said. “We have paintings, ceramic work, photographs and prints. We have something from Walt Bailey (former head of the Baker University Art Department). We do have some candy.”
The arts center will be open for donations from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday, which is convenient for those donating treats fresh from the oven, Cardens said. Proceeds from the auction will help fund the scholarship the arts center gives annually to a graduating Baldwin High School senior and ongoing programing at the Lumberyard, she said.