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Culver Academies auction organized by parents brings in record $1.7 million

Tom Coyne

Money raised goes to Culver Fund to support salaries, scholarships, programs and facilities upkeep

Nov. 16, 2022

What do a pontoon boat and electric golf cart, both tricked out in Culver logos and mottos, vacations in Acapulco, Alaska, Aspen, Baja, and Mexico City, and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a major league baseball game have in common?

All those items were sold during Live the Legacy Auction held Oct. 7 at the Henderson Ice Arena on the Culver campus. The auction, hosted by the Culver Parents Association, netted a record $1.7 million for the Culver Fund, which supports salaries, scholarships, programs, and facilities upkeep at the school, said Julie Crews Barger, Culver’s director of parent relations.

“We were blown away by the support,” auction co-chair Christine Barrett said. “It just goes to show how much people love Culver.”

About 1,200 people attended the event, which set records for the silent auction, live auction, sponsorships, and the Raise the Paddle fundraiser, where people donate to fund Culver scholarships.

“We were thrilled,” said Carrie Hart, who was the auction co-chair for a second time. “It was quite a big jump from the last time.”

The 2018 auction brought in $1.15 million. The previous record was $1.25 million, set during the second auction in 2004.  The auction is usually held every other year but there was no auction in 2020 because of COVID restrictions.

“I’m amazed, but not surprised,” Lara Nicholson ’86, the auction’s honorary co-chair, said about breaking the record. “Because our alumni, parents, staff, faculty, friends always respond when Culver calls. It was heart-warming.”

Hart said the goal was to net more than $1 million.


Lara Nicholson '86 and Kirby Henderson were honorary auction co-chairs.


“We were worried that, not having an auction for four years, that it might have lost some of its energy. So we worked hard to get the word out about the auction and where the money goes,” Barrett said.

The item that brought the highest bid was $80,000 for a 25-foot Starcraft MX tri-pontoon boat in Culver colors with customized Culver branding. A one-week fishing adventure at Goodnews River Lodge in Alaska and a four-night stay at the Mother Lode in Aspen, Colorado, each went for $29,000. A set of 10 Culver plates made in 1932 sold for $28,000.

“People are so generous,” Barger said. “While there are extraordinary trips and sporting events and cool custom-made items – all these exciting, glamorous items – sometimes it’s the pieces of memorabilia or the special homemade creation that also attract attention or raise a lot of money.”

A Culver regimental tenor drum sold for $3,300. Two concrete ornamental pinnacles that had been removed from Memorial Chapel sold for $1,800 and $1,250. A customized, handmade Culver table donated on the eve of the auction by Doug Feick sold for $16,000.

An item that impressed students was a pair of custom-made Culver cowboy boots that sold for $2,000.

“People love Culver memorabilia,” Barrett said.

One of the more fun items up for auction was a snack attack package of beef pot stickers made by Culver parent Mary Cheng, Helen Ye and Cici Cao. Cheng kept running back to the registration area, excited to let volunteers know how the bidding was going.

“It’s up to $700!” she told the volunteers.

She burst back in the room a few minutes later: “It’s $800!”

The package eventually sold for $1,500.

Cheng also fed the auction volunteers throughout the week leading up to the auction.

Barger credited the success of the auction to Hart, Barrett, and Nicholson.

“They were good at making smart decisions about where to invest our time and resources,” she said.


Culver Academies supporters at the Live the Legacy Auction celebrate.


Donors, particularly alumni and parents of students, contributing valuable and interesting items to auction also were essential.

“We just had so many people donating and wanting to help, wanting to give back,” Barrett said.

Barger said the fact that there was no auction in 2020 led to pent up demand.

“I think after four years people were excited,” she said. “Most of the parents, unless they had older kids who attended Culver, had never been to our auction.”

Mary Szymusiak, Culver’s senior special events coordinator, said the auction committee did a great job of getting the word out to parents about how important the auction was and educating them about all the work involved.

Raise the Paddle raised a record $472,000, up nearly 28 percent from the previous record of $369,207 set in 2018. There were six donations of $25,000 each.

“That was a real shock,” Hart said.

Records also were set for sponsorships at $562,500, up nearly 23 percent from 2018; silent auction at $328,030, up nearly 60 percent; and the live auction at $374,000, up more than 100 percent.

The silent auction was done exclusively online, which allowed people who couldn’t attend the auction to bid and let those who did attend get their bids in early.


Liz Nohren '94 bids on an item during the auction.


“We definitely got higher amounts for those items than we have in the past,” Hart said.

Szymusiak said it also meant people didn’t have to be constantly running from table to table to see if they had been outbid.

“They could enjoy themselves and receive alerts on their phones and by email,” Szymusiak said.

Barrett said it was gratifying to see how the hard work of so many volunteers paid off.

Numerous people said that it was great to have the opportunity to be around so many people from Culver again.

“What I loved was how happy everybody was to be back together in a large group celebrating Culver. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that,” Hart said.


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