Art Buchwald Reigns as Ever to Support Community Services

The Possible Dreams Auction last night drew $649,000 in bids for the 50 dreams that ranged from rides on the Flying Horses Carousel to an archaeological adventure in prehistoric European caves, putting the annual fundraiser on track for another record-breaking year.

"The expectation is that we will beat last year," auction chairman Jim Shane said late yesterday, as the Possible Dreams committee gathered at his Edgartown home in an election night-like atmosphere, waiting for counters to tally the earnings from the door fees, raffle tickets, advertisement sales and refreshments. "This is just the beginning," he added.

Indeed, the online segment of the auction, which began at 8 o'clock last night - minutes after the live auction closed - will also raise much-needed funds for Martha's Vineyard Community Services, the Island's umbrella social services agency that has run the live auction for 28 years. The proceeds benefit its otherwise unfunded programs, including Women's Support Services, the Island Counseling Center, Visiting Nurse Service and Early Childhood Programs.

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Last year's record-breaking auction - which was the first year for the online auction and raffle - raised $784,000. This year's tally to date is roughly $729,000 - including the price of auction admission and raffle tickets, among other things - and the online auction is twice as big as last year.

But of all the generous dream donations and bids, the hands-down winning gift of the evening was the presence of Art Buchwald himself - at the podium in his traditional role of auctioneer, along with the funny and fast-talking Susan Klein and Rick Lee.

"The news in January told us Art would not be back," Ms. Klein said, relating to the crowd the story of Mr. Buchwald's stay in hospice care in Washington, D.C. "But because the man traffics not only in Pulitzer Prizes, but also in miracles, would you please welcome Art Buchwald!"

To a soundtrack of cheers and applause, Mr. Buchwald came onstage.

"My fellow Americans," the famed political humorist began, pausing as laughter rippled through the audience at the Harborside Inn. "I am your born again auctioneer!"

After some signature anecdotes, he changed gears to highlight the evening's cause.

"In the 26 years I have been doing this auction, I never thought Community Services would be helping me," Mr. Buchwald said, adding: "Now they come to my house three times a day."

In addition to being the master of ceremonies and selling his straw hat for $7,000 - "It was given to me by Dick Cheney. It's the very hat he was wearing when he had his hunting accident," he quipped - Mr. Buchwald also generated the second highest sale of the night with his dream: an offer to conduct interviews and write a family history.

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Mr. Lee mercilessly coaxed audience members to raise their bids, cracking the gavel at $21,000. But 22 dreams later, Mr. Lee revealed that another family had come forward with an offer to match, and Mr. Buchwald agreed to write two family histories - bringing the total to $42,000.

"We're lifelong fans of Art Buchwald's," said Dan Burstein of Weston, Conn., the second bidder. "We think it will be very historic to have our family history told by Art." The dream was the family's sixth in eight years of attending the auction.

The biggest earner of the evening was the dream donated by children's book author and illustrator Marc Brown, creator of Arthur. Mr. Brown also generously agreed to a double dream when two women - just a few seats apart from each other - found themselves vying back and forth for the winning bid. The final price tag: $36,000 each, for a total of $72,000.

The children of the winning bidders will see the first screening of the new Arthur movie and Mr. Brown will visit both their schools to talk to students about writing and illustrating. Mr. Brown's publisher, Little Brown, also will donate an entire Arthur collection - more than 60 titles - to each school's library.

The third largest earner - and the largest single winning bid at $37,000 - was Carly Simon's offer of an Island tour and private serenade for up to 10 people.

In a last minute surprise, Mr. Buchwald and Ms. Simon also revealed that the winner would be the first to hear the song she wrote for Mr. Buchwald, entitled Too Soon to Say Goodbye - the same title as the book Mr. Buchwald is now writing.

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Peppering the story with humorous bits, Mr. Buchwald told the otherwise somber tale of making his funeral preparations and asking Ms. Simon to write a song for his memorial service. Instead, Ms. Simon wrote the song which she finished yesterday morning and sang one verse of for the audience.

As the bids ratcheted up, it appeared as though two women in the back of the garden were competing for the dream; but in fact they were bidding jointly. It was Carol Guthrie's first visit to the Vineyard, and at the auction she ran into an old friend she had not seen in 15 years - Aquinnah resident Mary Pat Thornton. But despite pooling resources Ms. Thornton eventually hit her limit and dropped out, leaving Ms. Guthrie to win the dream on her own.

"We're going to make them come with us," Ms. Guthrie said, referring to Ms. Thornton and her husband, Cormac McEnery. "I've loved Carly Simon since I was in college - which was too many years ago to tell you. I can't imagine anything more fun than meeting Carly Simon and hearing her sing."

Soon after, Mr. Buchwald announced the winner of the raffle - Lucy Hackney of Vineyard Haven - and gave her a choice of $10,000 or a lavish vacation to Maui, including all-access passes to the Mercedes Golf Tournament. Without hesitation, Mrs. Hackney said she chose the $10,000 and was donating it back to Community Services.

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"I've never won anything like that," she admitted, but she did not think twice about giving up the gift. "My daughter Virginia has gotten lots of help from Community Services and my son, Fein Hackney, was the chairman of the board."

Moments later, the donor of the Maui trip (and two other stunning dreams), Marty Homlish of the software company SAP, approached Mrs. Hackney.

"If you guys still want to go to Hawaii, you can - and still donate the $10,000 to Community Services," he said, and walked away.

Mrs. Hackney was shocked. "My golf husband and son may take him right up on it!" she said.

For more information about the online Possible Dreams Auction or to bid on any of the 47 items, please visit possibledreamsauction.org. Bids will be taken until 8 p.m. on Monday, August 21.