Everyone Wins Something at the Spring Auction

By Shirley Barnes
Penny and Jerry Koerner of Ridgeway, co-chairs of this year’s Community Connections Free Clinic Spring Auction, are a tireless team whose infectious enthusiasm for their cause offers a textbook example of successful community action.  
No sooner had the proceeds from last year’s event been tallied (raising close to $30,000), than the Koerners were searching for new one-of-a-kind experiences and adventures to be auctioned off at this year’s Spring Auction to be held at the Wisconsin Riverside Resort in Spring Green at 5-9 p.m. April 13.

Penny Koerner holds the one-of-a-kind painting created by Dodgeville artist Lauren Thuli, left, for this year’s Community Connections Free Clinic Spring Auction. Penny and her husband, Jerry, right, are again co-chairing the auction, which takes place April 13.

Perhaps the Koerners’ greatest gift is their ability to make connections with people throughout the community in an effort to introduce them to the work of the Community Connections Free Clinic.
Now in its 13th year, the Dodgeville-based clinic provides free basic healthcare to those who cannot afford or access medical services in Iowa and the surrounding counties. Staffed by over 90 volunteer medical professionals and lay people, it is supported entirely by private donations and grants from the community. The annual Spring Auction brings in approximately one-quarter of its annual funding. With over 11,200 people who have no medical insurance in its service area, the Free Clinic clearly fills a gaping hole in local community services.
That’s the message the Koerners are eager to share to encourage people to be part of the auction.
“We want people to come to the auction and bid … bid … bid,” says Jerry. “In the first place, auctions are fun. We have great food and great music.” The guitar-playing/singing duo of Scott Stieber and Don Myers are donating their musical talents again this year. “But what makes the Free Clinic Auction particularly special is that you’ll have a chance to bid on all kinds of adventures and experiences you just can’t buy,” he said.
Among the many unique offerings last year were A Women’s Fly Fishing and Stream Walking experience, stargazing for two through a large telescope at a local private research observatory or the opportunity to have six enthusiastic gardeners create, refresh or reclaim a portion of a local home garden.

What: Community Connections Free Clinic Spring Auction
When: 5-9 p.m. April 13
Where: Wisconsin Riverside Resort, S13220 Shifflet Rd.
How: To register, go to www.ccfcwi.org. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door and include silent and live auctions, wine pull, prize wheel, cash bar, hor d’oeuvres, music and plenty of fun.

At this year’s auction, a headliner will be the stunning black walnut “Elk” that Mineral Point’s award-winning woodcarver John Sharp has crafted specially to be auctioned off to benefit the Free Clinic.
Dodgeville artist Lauren Thuli has created a singular work to be used in the promotional pieces for the spring auction. The original, an 18×24-inch acrylic titled “Flowers in Clear Vase,” will then go to the highest bidder at the event.
Bidders will also be able to vie for a dinner for eight at a local bison farm, where the guests will have a chance to see the bison up close and personal. A private truffle-making class led by a noted local chocolatier; dinners in private homes – each with a special theme – and a wide assortment of local artisan foods and handcrafted pieces will be among the wide selection of auction items. Everyone donates his or her time, including auctioneer extraordinaire Larry Springer, whose talent for getting top dollar is unparalleled. Jerry Koerner and Heather Harris of Mineral Point, the masters of ceremony, keep the event lively.
“Just as the clinic has been an all-community effort from the beginning, so is the Auction,” said Penny Koerner. Dr. Aaron Dunn and June Meudt, then head of the Iowa County Health Department, came up with the idea that eventually became the clinic. Upland Hills Health and Wally Orzechowski of Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program were among the vital organizing partners.

“The Elk,” carved by award-winning Mineral Point artist John Sharp specifically for this year’s auction, is black walnut and measures 6 inches by 11 inches by 10 inches.

Monica Dunn chaired the early spring auction events, followed by Ginger Brand Biere. “Monica and Ginger had so many connections in the community,” said Penny. By the time she and Jerry agreed to head the auction, a lot of the groundwork was already set.
Both of the Koerners came to their task committed to community service. “My folks didn’t have much money and no political influence but they were kind and always helped out. That’s the way I was brought up,” said Jerry. When he first moved to Dodgeville from Connecticut some 20 years ago, he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and met a wide circle of people who enjoyed involvement.
“It’s very fulfilling for me to be able to give back to the community,” said Penny, who is constantly reaching out to others in her bowling league or exercise class or card clubs who she suspects would enjoy the same pleasure of being involved with the Free Clinic Auction.
This year’s working committee includes about a dozen people but many more contribute in other ways. For $500, a donor organization will become a sponsor. Among this year’s sponsors are Thrivent Financial, Farmers Implement Store, Farmers Savings Bank, Madison Emergency Physicians and two donors who wish to remain anonymous.
The Koerners have chaired the event for three years and plan to step down after the auction this year to give other people a chance to maintain the enthusiasm. “It’s very satisfying to be able to share the fun we’ve had putting this whole thing together,” Penny said, vowing to mentor the leaders who will follow them as their predecessors have helped them.
When do the Koerners start thinking about the auction every year? “I never stop thinking about it,” said Penny. On vacation in Door County last summer, she spotted some great ideas for auction items. Jerry, too, is always on the lookout. “I heard a conversation about singing telegrams on the radio the other day. It got me thinking. I could enlist some of my musician friends and dress up in costumes to fit the occasion. It could be great fun.”
The committee will finalize all auction donations this year by March 18. That’s when the final countdown to the event begins.
The Koerner home becomes action central. Volunteers are assigned to pick up all donated items. Big tubs are distributed throughout the house – each labeled as to where the items will be placed on the display tables once they are delivered to the Riverside Resort banquet area several days later, some for the silent, others for the live auction.
Gift certificates and selected items are packaged as part of the Spin to Win wheel where the partygoers will pay $20 each to have a chance to win a treasure trove worth $15 to $100. “Everyone wins something,” said Jerry. “It’s a very active evening with lots going on.”
The Koerners’ goal for the 2019 auction is to have at least 20 more people there than attended last year. “The more people, the more bidding and the more fun,” said Jerry. “So register early, and bring friends.”

Shirley Barnes was a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune before moving to rural Dodgeville with her husband, Earl.