Items auctioned to benefit the Suter Science Center Campaign included a star guide from M.T. Brackbill’s 1930s astronomy classes, a large chest of drawers (possibly from the Ad Building) and Esther Augsberger’s sculpture, “Robe of God." The student-led auction raised over $21,000 for renovations to the Science Center. (Photos by Charlie Good)

Student-led auction raises $21,000 for science center renovations

Enjoying one of the spring’s first balmy Saturday afternoons, an enthusiastic crowd gathered April 5 on Eastern Mennonite University’s Thomas Plaza for a student-led auction to benefit the Suter Science Center renovations. The event raised more than $21,000.

SGA co-presidents and main auction organizers Christine Baer and Carissa Harnish say they didn’t know what to expect before the auction started. “When the first big item, a ceramic bowl by Jerry Lapp, went for $325, we were amazed,” says Harnish.

Baer adds that local auctioneers John and Jack Bowman, who donated their time, “really knew how to keep the crowd engaged and laughing.”

The auction raised $14,075.67 (including a pre-auction donation) with an additional $7,037.84 coming from a matching grant by the Marietta McNeill Morgan and Samuel Tate Morgan Foundation.

“I was very pleased with the kind of response and donations we got from students, the science department, alumni, parents, faculty and staff,” says Phil Helmuth, executive director of development. “The auction crowd wasn’t huge, but those who came were prepared to spend money.”

The infamous shotglass (originally purchased as a “rosebud vase” for a donor appreciation banquet) brought $300. Howard Zehr‘s recent book, “Pickups, A Love Story,” went for $300. A star guide from M.T. Brackbill’s 1930s astronomy classes sold for $600. A large chest of drawers (possibly from the Ad Building) went for $750, and Esther Augsberger’s sculpture, “Robe of God,” sold for $3200.

Students also bought bricks from previous buildings on campus, plants from the greenhouse and discarded glassware from science labs. Food tables of chili, cornbread and baked goods added $700 to the total.

“It inspires everyone when students engage in a project like this with their own creativity, commitment, and passion for a good cause,” says Kirk Shisler, vice president for advancement.

A matching grant magnified the auction’s yield; for every $2 raised, an additional $1 was added by the Marietta McNeill Morgan and Samuel Tate Morgan Foundation, bringing the total to more than $21,000. Further donations made to the SGA campaign using this secure online form will be matched as well.

“When we started planning for this campaign last semester, we drew inspiration from the famous Library drive of 1969, when students lead the campus community to raise more than $100,000 [in 1969 dollars] in four days,” says Baer. “We heard so many library drive stories from alumni and community folks as they dropped off donated items for the auction. That made it come alive for us.”

The co-presidents admit their fundraising goals for the auction event were considerably more modest, between $5,000 and $10,000.

One lesson Harnish and Baer want to pass to future student leaders: “With all the institutional support here, from development to physical plant to faculty and staff, it is completely possible for students to organize successful fundraising campaigns for things they care about.”

Young alum Braydon Hoover, who as a pre-med and biology major spent many hours in Suter Science Center, agrees. “I thought the auction was fantastic: the type of event we should try to do every year, frankly. Not only did we raise money for a good cause, connections were made between students and alumni, and that’s what it’s all about.”