WaKEENEY — “Prepare for the battles,” warned one of the bidders in the crowd pressed around the auctioneer at the Leon and Ginger Fabrizius Estate Auction on Saturday at the Trego County Fairgrounds in WaKeeney.
And a battle it was. Six antique kerosene lamps of various sizes and shapes were on the block, with Col. Jerry Gross, Gross Auction Service, crying out $20 as the opening bid.
“I have my eye on some things,” Max Weissbeck, Collyer, had said just a few minutes earlier. “The lamp with the white shade. Years ago my grandpa had lamps with the mantles and the millers would fly into them and break up the mantles.”
Weissbeck was prepared to go $40 or $45 tops. But moments later, Rhonda Shepard, Collyer, carried away the lamp, the winning bidder at $100.
“I have an old farmhouse and I have a collection of lamps. This will sit in my kitchen,” Shepard said. “I light them. They are like an old tractor, you have to use them.”
Saturday’s auction started at 10 a.m. By noon there were more than 168 registered bidders, and a capacity crowd filled the Trego County Fair Exhibit Building. A one-of-a-kind auction, up for sale were the household, shop and farm belongings of Leon and Ginger Fabrizius, who for 60 years were the heart of Stithem & Fabrizius Auction Service with their longtime business partner, Ray Stithem.
Leon, 82, the auction caller, died Apr. 10, 2017, and Ginger, 81, his wife and cashier, died 10 months later on Feb. 22.
“Dad had an auction scheduled for the Saturday after he died,” said Leon’s daughter Kelli Morrill, Pleasant Hill, Mo.
“Things are going for a little more at this auction,” said one auction-goer. “That’s because it’s for Leon. This is a big crowd, I’ve never seen a crowd this big, I’ve never had to park this far away.”
That was part of the satisfaction for Shepard, a registered nurse.
“I knew Leon quite well. I rode the ambulance with him once when he had a heart attack,” she said, “This is an original Aladdin and that’s what I wanted. I wanted something of Leon’s.”
Gary Kerth, a cousin of Ginger’s from rural Wichita, was there for the same reason with his wife, Virginia.
“It’s fun to be here,” Virginia said. “People want to pick up some little something that makes you think of Leon and Ginger.”
Jody Bennett, Garden City, cradled in his arms a two-piece antique Hurricane candle lamp, white rose on ruby color glass.
Bennett, who’s attended auctions since his mom took him as a little boy, was enthusiastic about the glassware, for which he has a strong appreciation. The lamp, for which he paid $10, is a Fenton, an American company that made glass from the late 1800s to about 2010, each one hand-painted and signed by the person who painted it, Bennett explained.
“That’s not bad for a hand-painted Fenton, especially now since they aren’t making them anymore,” he said. “I’ll put it with my mom’s collection.”
He’d also snagged an emerald green and gold individual cream and sugar set by Heisey Glass Co. Sold in jewelry stores, Heisey pieces were made up until the late 1950s and were a popular bridal registry selection, he said.
“This is a fun auction,” Bennett said. “There are a lot of things you don’t usually see. There’s some really unusual stuff here.”
Even family member’s were in on the bidding action Saturday — typical for the auctions Leon called. On hand besides Kelli were her brothers, Kevin, from Kerrville, Tex., Mark, from Ogallah, and Danny, Memphis. Keeping true to their dad’s spirit of “always making his auctions fun,” they laughed and joked, while also confessing that Saturday’s auction was bittersweet.
“Dad’s lifetime number was three,” said Danny. “At every auction, numbers one through five were reserved for the workers.” Ginger bid on Leon’s number, always taking an interest in books and glassware. Any items that failed to sell, Leon might put it in a box with a quarter and ask for a bid of 0.25 cents, or buy it himself.
Explaining the volume of belongings up for auction Saturday, Mark laughed and explained about his dad, “He spent his wages at the auction.”
“On his gravestone we put a picture of a bidding card with the number three,” Kevin said.
Kelli remembers as a kid during auctions she’d help her mom track sales by running bid sheets that detailed what sold and the item’s buyer. She also recalls bidding at her dad’s auctions.
“He’d ask me ‘What’s your number?’ and I’d hold up three fingers,” she laughed. “He would always pay for my stuff.”
On Saturday, Kelli was the auction’s first bidder, winning a set of picture frames for $2.50.
“Mom tried to give me these things,” she said. “And now here I am buying them.”
Heavy mist and fog blanketing the county all morning were good for turnout, bringing in people who might not be able to do anything else with the weather keeping them inside, said the brothers and their sister.
The family spent all week sorting the items and hauling them to the fairgrounds, jobs they used to do when helping their mom and dad prepare estate sales for other families.
“We didn’t think there was this much stuff until we started hauling it out,” said Mark. Given the number of items, and with bidders exceeding 100, the auction ranks as a fairly big one, they said.
They set it up the way their dad would have wanted, keeping the light stuff together and grouping it with a specific flow to keep hot bidders together and focused.
“If you don’t set it up right, you lose the bidder’s interest,” Kevin said.
There were moments of doubt, however, like the waffle iron from the 50s or 60s that they were going to throw away. Then Danny plugged it in and it heated right up. It sold for more than $25.
It was daughter-in-law Kathleen Fabrizius who had the idea to give away a slice of pie free to everyone attending the auction on Saturday.
“Dad always had pie served with lunch at all of his auctions, and before one started he’d pick out his piece and set it back for when the auction was over,” Kathleen said. “So we decided to give everyone a piece of pie.”
Sherry Kuntz, WaKeeney, has been in the food industry for 20 years, cooking for Leon’s auctions and for the sale barn. For Saturday, she baked 39 pies, from apple cream and rhubarb, to blueberry, pumpkin, lemon, banana cream, and more. On Saturday the pie table was busy, with Kuntz and the lunch ladies serving up slices. She admitted that after two weeks of baking, “I just don’t want to see another pie.”
By 1 p.m. the pie pickings were thin. But the auction was still going strong, with some estimates that it would run into the evening.
Weissbeck from Collyer had succeeded in winning an item and was carrying it from the auction — a black antique Singer sewing machine.
“I’m going to make it into a tractor,” Weissbeck said. “If you’ve ever been to S&W Supply in Hays, they have one there.”