Kansas man refurbishes cars for fundraising auction
Hutchinson — Jerry Toews ran from one vehicle to the next like an excited kid.
He pointed to the distinctive features of the Minneapolis Moline antique tractor, the Honda motor scooter, even the first John Deere riding mower he and his crew had refurbished for the 50th Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale.
The sale is a benefit for the Mennonite Central Committee, a world relief organization.
In honor of half a century of raising funds to help those around the globe, Toews was thrilled to have a 50-year-old Ford F-100, with only 39,000 miles, for the auction.
On a recent morning at his home on the edge of Goessel, he turned the key in the ignition, and the engine purred perfectly.
Coincidently, A.D. Rayle Ford dealership sold the baby blue truck in Hutchinson, the same year the first Central Kansas Relief Sale began at the newly established Marion County Fairgrounds.
Every vehicle he has prepared for the auction has a story, which Toews enjoys sharing. Like the Cadillac Eldorado Sports Coop, with 66,000 miles.
“It was only driven to church on Sundays between Inman and Buhler if the weather was nice,” Toews told The Hutchinson News. “It was never on a gravel road. There are no dings.”
Then there’s the Grand Marquis, whose interior still smells new and has only 28,000 miles. A woman who recently moved into assisted living donated it for the most recent Mennonite Relief sale, held Friday and Saturday. According to its Facebook page, the sale raised about $559,038 for MCC.
Year-round, Toews works on getting the vehicles refurbished. Retired from teaching instrumental music at Goessel, this has become his passion. Or his obsession, if you speak to his wife, Leann.
He works with a support group of volunteers who specialize in engine service, tire repair, sheet metal and upholstery refurbishing. Last year, they had 15 vehicles, which brought in $78,000 at the relief sale.
“It keeps me doing this,” he said.
In 1968, a committee of inter-Mennonite men from the Hillsboro area organized the first Central Kansas Relief Auction at the newly-established Marion County Fairgrounds, according to memories recorded by Pat and Myrta Bartel.
That first year, 4,000 people attended, and they raised $19,500 to help support MCC relief around the world. It wasn’t the best of conditions, according to the Bartels’ reminiscence. Because of wet weather and new highway construction in the area, a shuttle bus route was set up to haul hundreds of people to and from the event. People waded through the mud.
Items for sale included about 150 quilts, with some going as high as $100 each. In 2017, the most expensive quilt went for $15,000.
The verenika was cooked on-site during the event, as people passed by to purchase the food. More recently, the verenika, a cottage cheese-filled dumpling, and bohne beroggi, pastries filled with pinto beans and topped with a sweet cream sauce, are prepared by large groups of volunteers days ahead of the event.
After the first year, it was clear more room was needed, and the event was moved to the Harvey County Fairgrounds in Newton.
Tents housed some of the sale areas, including the meals. Again, rain caused puddles to form inside the tents, resulting in many wet feet and spattered clothes, Myrta Bartel recalled.
After several years at the Harvey County Fairgrounds, the event grew even more and moved to the Kansas State Fairgrounds.
“A very good relationship formed with the State Fair board,” according to Myrta Bartel. Over the years, the sale has become a significant annual event at the fairgrounds, occupying numerous buildings.
Johnnie Bartel, husband of Myrta, had been active from the beginning, and he was well-known for his interest in, and knowledge of, auctions. He soon took charge of setting up the miscellaneous auction, a position he filled until three months before his death in 1999. Myrta Bartel died in 2016.
“The story of the talents from the Bible encouraged Johnnie to help our offering to increase through this process. Many items doubled or tripled their price at auction. The same practice is still being carried on at present,” Myrta wrote. “It was a wonderful place to meet old friends and make new ones. Working for the cause of Christ through the MCC Sale was a very meaningful experience for Johnnie and me, and it was heartwarming to see our children and grandchildren carrying on the tradition.”
The week of the sale, Johnnie would spend several days preparing and setting up the building to receive sale items. He would leave for the sale early on Friday morning, not to return home until late Saturday night.
Now, the next generation is carrying on the tradition. Folks like Jerry and Leann Toews not only work with Saturday’s auction, but also help with Saturday’s chicken barbecue. Leann says it’s an option for those who want something besides the German buffet sold in Cottonwood Court.
From the food to the quilts to the 1995 Coleman pop-up camper, “everything is donated,” Jerry said. He estimates 93 cents of every dollar donated to MCC goes to help those in need in 60 countries around the world.
Jim Robb, this year’s committee chairman, said the two-day event had become a well-oiled machine, thanks to more than 1,000 volunteers. This year’s theme was “Praising God through service.”
Each year, over the two-day event, there is a general auction, quilt auction and silent auction, as well as a kids’ auction. By bidding on an antique tractor, quilt, or even buying a slice of pie, it all goes to the world relief organization.