X-Travaganza 40th Anniversary
A brief history with many thanks to Mrs. Cynthia A. Piening
X-TRAVAGANZA...when the name was coined, little did they know that the little auction that was, would grow to be one of the premier charity auctions in the city and the "granddaddy" of many high school and parish auctions in the area.
In 1973, when President Mark Schuler hired Bro Peter J. Maurer, SJ, it was to develop the concept of a fund-raising auction to seek other sources of revenue to defray operating expenses. He used the early successes of the auction at Loyola Academy in Chicago as a model. A fall date was chosen so as not to compete with the WCET auction that was held in the spring. The chairs, Ginny and Gene Ruehlmann and Ruth and John Keefe were able to spearhead the first annual auction—a black-tie affair with dinner and breakfast—to raise an astounding $25,000! This profit would be used to subsidize the increasing costs at a time when tuition was $900!
Dick Klus, whose name is synonymous with the auction, left his position as Assistant Principal in 1974, to join Bro. Maurer, to co-direct the budding Development Office. Along with Chairs Pat and Norm Murdock and Marty and Bob Jacobs, they were able to increase the profit to $30,000. By May of 1975, Bro. Maurer left St. Xavier and Dick became the Director of Development. Later that summer, Paul Zook left the English Department to form a "team of two" who would strengthen the foundation and carefully cultivate the X-Travaganza. Jim Cahill would join the duo in the Development Office from 1985 to 1990.
In July 1976, Fr. Paul Borgmann assumed the Presidency at St. X and would preside over 15 auctions. Its bicentennial would serve as the first subtle theme for the auction under the chairs, Bette and Bob Reis. In 1977, Lucille and Jack Vehr selected Tom and Claire Ballaban as honorary chairs, to mark Tom's 25 years at St. X and the Ballaban's 25th wedding anniversary. A novel oral item offered in the 1977 auction, chaired by Lucille and Jack Vehr, was the rental of the Rainbow Room (remember the cafeteria pillars painted in a rainbow of colors!) valued at $250-300.
Blessed with multitudes of volunteers over the years, X-Travaganza is particularly indebted to the chairs of the auction, who have stepped into a leadership role to guide the committees to extraordinary achievements. Three couples (Kathleen and Mike Edelmuth ('85 & '86), Margo & John Locaputo ('91 & '92) and Jane & Dick Yost ('98 & '99) had the unique privilege to chair the auction for two years. Since 2000 the auction has had chairs and co-chairs. The role of the co-chairs is to shadow the chairs in order to learn what is expected. The following year the chairs would serve as advisors. Although committed for three years, many have become life-long supporters of the X-Travaganza.
There have been only been six auctioneers to participate in the X-Travaganza. We have been blessed to have Lance Walker for the last 23 years. His expertise has raised well over a million dollars from just auctioning the oral items. Prior to his dominance, the auction was most affected by the knowledge and suggestions of a charity auctioneer from Chicago, Tim Duggan. In 1981, at the invitation of Klus and Zook, Tim Duggan reviewed the X-Travaganza and made a number of recommendations, which we still implement today. Perhaps the biggest change was to move the auction to a spring date, allowing organizers more time during the school year to prepare for the event. Other notable changes included increasing the number of gift gathering parties, moving from a buffet dinner to a served meal, moving the auctioneer from the stage of the Berning Gymnasium to the middle of the crowd and displaying silent items on shelves rather than tables. This allowed more room on the gym floor and stage for guest tables and silent display. It was also his suggestion that the oral auction would start during dinner to engage the patrons early. It was then that Bob Linneman, with the electrical expertise of Bob Wuest, made the Broadway running lights that rose above the silent areas and transformed the gym to a festive party atmosphere for more than 30 years. They also installed the rails on the back wall of the stage to display hundreds of art pieces. Tim Duggan served as auctioneer for eight years. As a note of trivia, there were actually two auctions held on Fridays in 1983 and 1984, so that Tim Duggan could be there.
Along with modest increases in profits, the early auctions had minimal decorations. It wasn't until the 1980s the X-Travaganza developed major themes. Some of which were One Enchanted Evening…..Under the Stars ('88), Puttin' on the Glitz ('89), In Alice's Wonderland ('90), In an English Garden ('91), Down Memory Lane ('92). In the last two decades, we have taken a "Sterling X-cursion" (1998, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the auction), a "Celestial X-pedition" ('00), an "Oriental X-perience" ('02) an "Italian X-scape" ('06) and an "African X-pedition" ('09). We have spent an evening at a "Circus X-traordinaire" ('97), at an "X-caliber Night" ('01), "in X-clusively Manhattan" ('05), enjoying "Broadway X-citement" ('08), at a "Derby Night X-acta" ('10) and most recently we spent an "Evening on the LinX" ('13). Who knew there were so many clever ways to incorporate "X" into a name?
During the Presidency of Fr. Bill Verbryke, on March 19, 1993, "Taste of X-Travaganza," later coined Preview Night, now known since 2008 as First Night, debuted in the cafeteria at no charge. There were a number of reasons for this event: 1) guests could view the Saturday night venue to encourage attendance in the future; 2) to force decorations to be complete 24 hours before the main event on Saturday; 3) invitations were sent to corporate donors to thank them for their generosity and 4) to siphon off duplicate auction items and make them available to a larger audience.
Many in the St. X community have had a drink at the large oak bar, which has rolled around the campus for innumerable events. In 1995 Linda Moeves had two of them made for Preview Night, O'Xavier's Irish Pub, on March 17th. In 2002, Fr. Walter Deye's first as President, Preview Night was moved to the science wing in Rooms 158 and 160. The event soon outgrew these rooms and was moved to the Ellis Gym. More recently all incoming freshmen parents have been invited as a welcome to them at a less formal social gathering.
Some landmark dates in the history of the auction include:
- Visa and MasterCard were first accepted in 1978.
- In 1980, John & Robey Klare introduced a Stock X-change Raffle, selling 405 tickets at $100 each for a prize of either a $25,000 stock portfolio or $25,000 cash. Because of the limitations of space at the auction, it was thought that a raffle would broaden the support of the event. Out-of-town alums and friends of St. X continue to be contacted each year during phoneathons manned by students, parents and other volunteers.
- In 1981, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Xavier, the Grand Raffle made its debut, selling 300 tickets at $250 each for a $25,000 prize. Changed to the Scholarship Raffle, thousands of dollars were raised to fund the education of deserving young men at St. X over the next 15 years. For the 25th Anniversary of the X-Travaganza, in 1998, the Grand Raffle returned and continues to increase sales annually. It was in 2005 that a three-tiered prize was structured to include $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 cash awards.
- Duck Pond themes became a focal point of the decorations in 1986—Treasure Trove, Swan Lake ('87), Mad Hatter's Tea Party ('90), etc.
- Auction Tracker computer program made its debut in 1987 to record and manage the auction items and event.
- In 1989, Margo Locaputo began her involvement with X-Travaganza as the chair of the New Gifts Committee.
- There was a significant increase in the number of gift gathering parties, with 66 families co-hosting events in 1991. Today there are dozens of gift gathering events throughout the fall and early winter, hosted by athletic, cocurricular, theater, neighborhood and other groups.
- Reverse Raffle—Split the Lobster Pot—made its debut in 1993.
- At the start of the new millennium in 2000, a new era began for the auction. With the new facilities built, guests entered through the new gym foyer where the live auction items were displayed. Although the auction remained in the Berning Gymnasium, checkout was moved to the Ellis Gymnasium.
- In 2003, Bob Stautberg, Fr. Bill Murphy, SJ, Darrick Murphy, and their co-workers in the Business Office and Technology Department computerized the checkout for the first time.
- In 2008, both Preview Night and X-Travaganza had to be postponed until Sunday, March 10th due to blizzard-like conditions on Friday!
- March 18, 2009 was the "darkest day" in the history of the X-Travaganza. Our dear Director, Margo Locaputo, passed away just four days after her 15th auction.
- Under new President Fr. Tim Howe and Director Sara Schindler, a number of changes were introduced. In 2010, Corporex contributed $25,000 as the first corporate sponsor of the X-Travaganza. An updated computer program, Maestro Pro, was implemented to organize the auction. Advertising expanded the catalog, requiring a bound book for the first time. The Sweetheart Rose Raffle debuted, along with X-tend-the-Hand, to raise additional funds.
- X-Travaganza 2011 was another marquis year for the auction. First Night was held in the Berning Gymnasium, while the X-Travaganza moved to the Ellis Gymnasium for the first time. This was also the debut of the BidPal—a hand-held device for silent bidding. Former Bengal, Dhani Jones, designated St. X as the recipient of over $27,000 raised by the sale of his custom-designed bowties.
As Margo often said “there are only so many people we can accommodate in the gym, with so much money to spend on so many items." Because of the constraints of the auction, an effort was made to increase revenues by hosting other events. In 1980, Harry Stall handcrafted a ten-room dollhouse valued at $2500. Raffle tickets for the dollhouse were sold throughout the auction with the winner drawn in December. September 12, 1998 was the first of four years of X-Scavenger Hunts. In January 1999 Back to Broadway, a musical revue held at Mount St. Joseph, raised an amazing $18,920! There were four more years that the X-Travaganza was the recipient of the Back to Broadway revenues. In January 2002, the Footlighters presented “Stepping Out" at the Stained Glass Theater in Newport in support of the auction. Almost $25,000 was raised in December 2003 at the Vatican Art Exhibit, “The Legacy of the Popes," at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Then in 2005, Dave Hofmeister approached Margo with an offer to hold a Texas Hold'em Poker tournament to benefit the auction. His generosity has helped raise $79,000 for the school. But perhaps the single largest development in the history of X-Travaganza has been the addition of online auctions, first held in February 2006 and coordinated by Patti Sutter. More recently there have been two each year—one in November and another in the spring. These online endeavors have netted almost $372,000. Another addition has been a ladies golf outing started in the fall of 2010.
Forty years of the auction has seen thousands of gifts received. In 1973 an edition of a Merit Encyclopedia, valued at an amazing $319, was donated by St. X's It's Academic Team. A list of items reflects changing times and advances in technology—in 1977 raffle items included a 12" black and white TV. Today iPads, Kindles, etc.…. and the like dominate the wish lists. In the late '70s and 80s there were varieties of auto opportunities for the likes of a 1978 Corvette, in which the winning bidder won the right to purchase a car at dealer's cost. Tickets to sporting events, the theater, and weekend get-aways have always been popular items. Over the years the names of the silent areas have morphed from the original ones: From the Creative, For Fun and Relaxation, At Your Service, For the Collector, For the Home, Potpourri, Gifts Galore to Home and Garden, Just for Her, St. X Factor, Leisure Time, and Sports. Blessed with generous donations, a Super Silent (now X-Travagant Silent) area made its debut in 1995 for pricey items that did not make the oral auction.
Many of our corporate donors have generously given items for nearly the entire history of the auction. From a $160 silver tea set donated in 1973, Richter and Phillips has provided the auction with many coveted pieces of jewelry. The St. X community is forever indebted to companies like Home City Ice, Cork'-n-Bottle, Schwartz Jewelers, Berning Printing, Fifth Third Bank, etc. who have given for decades. We still use endless rolls of colored paper donated years ago by Champion Paper and Jungle Jim's International Market gave dinner wine for a number of auctions. Sam Adams Brewery, Sweeney Chevrolet, and Michael Schuster Associates Architects are just a few more of those companies who are committed to the success of the X-Travaganza. Even individuals made repeated donations, such as the ladies custom suit valued at $700, given for many years by Karen Schwartz. Many vacation homes belonging to St. Xavier families have become standard offerings in the oral auction.
If you browse the catalogs and note the volunteer names, many of those faithful were teachers, staff members and their spouses at St. Xavier. Without their help, the early auctions would not have been as successful. Nancy Klus and Marianne Zook served right alongside their husbands, attended hundreds of gift-gathering parties, carried thousands of gifts, wrote innumerable bid tickets and reams of catalog script, sold raffle tickets and did anything to help the cause. Fr. Denny Ahern continues to serve as chaplain, often presiding at gift-gathering Masses. Fr. Denny was even in charge of lighting for as many as five years in the beginning. Former principal, Mike Trainor and his wife Diane, chaired the setup of the auction for many years in the 70s. Judy Luebering, a volunteer "X-Traordanaire" turned employee, was always available for whatever the auction needed. The now-retired Bill Windisch was responsible for thousands of pictures of the oral auction items, and then producing the slide show at the event. For years, former English teacher and Assistant Principal, Tom Meyer, worked on the catalog. He was joined by other masters of the written word: Jim Cahill, John Hussong and Wally Koral. Even after Jim Cahill left the Development Office to return to the classroom, he continued to recruit dozens of volunteers each year to work the night of the auction. Valet parking has been provided by the St. X Community Service Department and for many years Paul Lammermeier guided those young drivers, followed by the likes of Jim Tellas, Dave Clapp, John Ravenna, Matt Kemper, Jack Reynolds, Jerry Becker, etc. Carol Morgan and Jill Thurman have recruited and directed the runners and spotters for the oral auction for decades. Long before automated checkout, the cash room was directed by Larry Christian, then Paul Klems and more recently by the Business Office with the assistance of those in the Technology Department. In the 1970s the bar was attended by the likes of Jim Klus, Bill Murphy, and Dick Murphy. Then in the 1980s Elaine and Bill McCarty took over the tap along with an army of volunteers. Over the years many employees in the Development Office have offered their services as the auction approached. Annual Fund Assistant, Cheryl Asper, organized the Live and Silent auction gift certificates for many years. Although they worked on many of the early auctions, Dick and Cindy Piening have been on the executive committee since 1991 and have served as floor managers for the last 18 years. They have been assisted for the last six years by heir apparents, Heather and Ed Nardini.
Perhaps the backbone of the X-Travaganza has been the support of the St. Xavier Mothers' Club and the Women's Club. They have provided leadership, as many of the auction chairs came from the ranks of these groups, thousands of dollars in contributions to underwrite the dinner, appetizers, desserts, etc. for many years; and oral gifts, in the form of hosting parties. The Mothers' Club Board Class of 1995 hosted a Murder Mystery Dinner Party at the Jesuit residence for four years. Then starting in 2000 and continuing until today, they and the Class of 1999 began a tradition of offering two brunches for 50 with Mass as an oral auction item. Innumerable Mother's Club Board members and former chairs of the auction have contributed to these events, becoming known as “lifers" for their never-ending support of the auction.
Other volunteers, who donated thousands of hours to the success of the auction, could never say no when asked to help. Ann Albers' talent lives on when she creates the invitation and catalog design, which has become the signature mark of each auction. John Bange orchestrated hundreds of artistic parents to create oral auction posters. From 1996 to 2009, Tom Cahill penned the script for each oral auction item, always with a clever twist around the auction theme. Proofing that catalog script for many years was Linda Schmidt. Setup in the 80s was synonymous with Bev and Bob Linnemann. For nearly a decade, reservations were sent to Joan Ackerman, who carefully coordinated the seating at the auction. Preview Night was elevated to a new level through the efforts of Betsey Gibboney. It was Donna Broderick, who would change the Preview to First Night. Both Sue and Jerry Palermo and Judy and Dan Griffin chaired the Reverse Raffle for years. For 15 years Rich Linneman and his "bar mates" were responsible for thousands of drinks served to the guests at the auction. Orest Melnyk and Ted Huser continue to serve up signature cocktails each year. The creative genius of people like Millie Swaine, Sandi Cloppert, Steve and Chris Toth, Joan Valerio, Barb Ballinger, Donna Lott, Jeff Erhman, Tracy Ram, Andrea Berndt and dozens more have transformed simple gyms into spectacular venues. Kathy Fischer became known as the 'queen' of the baskets, while Muffy Kadon became the Duck Pond guru. Each year Gary Bohnlein, megaphone in hand, would help to close the silent booths with color and excitement! Long past their sons' graduation, Grace and Edmonde DeGregorio still help on the catalogue and Texas Hold'em.
However, like every successful endeavor, it has been the capable women behind the scenes that have kept the X-Travaganza on task. These names….Florence Greis, Dora Vedder, Lynn Schoettmer, Dora Bange, Tirzah Amrein, Holly Northern, Kate Glueck, Mary Beth Meyer, Cindy Thomas, Paula Flaherty, Heidi Eveleigh, Heidi O'Connor, Jynefir Slusher, Katie Leary, and Jaime Bitzenhofer….conjure up memories of extraordinarily talented and organized ladies. While typing millions of words of catalog, answering thousands of phone calls, sending hundreds of invitations and thank you notes, they rarely lost their patience. Constant interruptions by frazzled volunteers never seemed to bother them, as they answered innumerable questions always with a smile.
X-Travaganza has become a family affair, crisscrossing generations. Looking through past catalogs, one is struck by the names of volunteers who were a part of the auction for decades as volunteers, donors and attendees (Bennie, Berger, Berning, Besl, Buenger, Carroll, Chavez, Coffaro, Deye, Esselman, Gruber, Hart, Heidt, Hendy, Hils, Horan, Hue, Hummel, Kathmann, Keating, Klekamp, Keefe, Konerman, Lame, Liguzinski, Linneman, Locaputo. Massa, Mazza, Meuthing, Meyer, Niehaus, Reilly, Reynolds, Ries, Robertson, Schaefer, Schellman, Schroeder, Sedler, Stall, Stertz, Sweeney, Thiemann, Vehr, Wittrock, Wolf, Wolnitzek, Yost, etc.) Some still play important roles with the auction. In 1987 Braden and Eileen Mechley chaired the auction, which hit the $200,000 profit level for the first time. Twenty-seven years later their daughter, Heidi Mechley-Felton and husband, Mike, will chair the 2014 edition. Perhaps they will break into the $800,000 stratosphere!
Cost of the evening started at a modest $50 per couple. Every few years there would be $5-50 increase, until today the price is $280 per couple. Regardless of the cost, the quality of the dinner has always been a focus of the evening. With more than 20,000 meals served to guests in the last 40 years, choice of the caterer has been paramount. For the first 11 years, Manor Catering provided an elegant buffet dinner, as well as a buffet breakfast, complete with linens and silver serving dishes. Later as the dinner changed to a served meal, ARA Catering, Classic Fare Catering, Bensons Catering, each participated until Elegant Fare provided the menu for 15 years. For many of those years, Servatii provided the pastries for the breakfast buffets. More recently, Jeff Thomas Catering and Funky's Cateringhave served delicious meals to the guests as well as the volunteers.
A portion of the reservation cost is considered a donation, along with the thousands of dollars that have been spent over the last 40 years on a myriad of auction items, from sweatshirts to Sea-Doos, from firewood to furniture, from watches to waterbeds and from cars to condos. It is extraordinary to think the St. Xavier community has raised over $12,750,000 in the last 40 years, due to the generosity of our patrons and the support of thousands of volunteers. A large part of this money has come from the Scholarship/Grand Raffle. Many of our alumni and friends, who are unable to participate in the event, support the efforts of the X-Travaganza by buying raffle tickets year after year. Together this amazing amount of money has helped fund the education of hundreds of students at St. X.
The growth of the X-Travaganza can be likened to the building of a home. Brother Pete Maurer "poured" the foundation in 1973, while the walls were "built" under the capable partnership of "Dick Klus and Paul Zook Construction." It took a former Shillito's buyer, Margo Locaputo, to decorate the home with amazing fixtures and accompaniments. She knew just the people to "hire" for the myriad of jobs to keep the house running properly. As the world of technology was traveling at warp-speed, Sara Schindler entered to update the home. Today the head of the house is Cathy Cionni. She, along with the family of St. Xavier, will keep our event the pinnacle of auctions. After all, in the words of Dick Klus, “the X-travaganza is not only a "fund-raiser" but a "friend-raiser!"