With All Hats Off to Late Art Buchwald, Possible Dreams Auction Set for Monday

By KATE BRANNEN

Imagine sitting in the VIP suite at the Circuit de Catalunya racetrack in Barcelona on a sunny May day. As the Formula One race cars whiz by, you clink champagne flutes with your lucky guest and smile, thinking of the Michelin starred dinner that awaits you.

Now imagine it's a dreary, cold February morning on the Vineyard. The fatigue of depression is keeping you in bed. You'd stay there all day, but you have an appointment with a therapist in the afternoon. You can't afford the counseling, but luckily the cost is already covered.

Dreams large and small will become realities on Monday, August 6 at the 29th annual Possible Dreams Auction, which raises money for Martha's Vineyard Community Services.

The auction will be held in the garden at the Harborside Inn on South Water street in Edgartown. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Bidding begins at 4:30 p.m.

Up for grabs is a trip for two to Barcelona to watch the Spanish Grand Prix in style. The highest bidder's money will go directly to providing year-round care to Islanders who otherwise can't afford it.

The Island Counseling Center, which provides more than 10,000 visits each year and serves more than 890 Island families, is one of the programs that directly benefits from the auction.

Jan Hatchard, development director at Community Services, said that with all of its programs combined, the organization serves roughly 6,000 people, about half of the Island's year-round population. Women's Support Services, their domestic violence and sexual assault center, serves more than 400 women a year.

Ms. Hatchard reported that last year Community Services provided over $1 million in unfunded care. They hope to raise at least that much at this year's event, exceeding last year's $810,000. She said the money raised will be a wonderful tribute to the event's most beloved auctioneer, Art Buchwald, who died last January.

It will be the first Possible Dreams Auction in a quarter-century without him at the podium. Over the years, Mr. Buchwald, with his good humor and relentless energy, managed to convince hundreds of attendees to donate millions of dollars for the cause.

Raised in a series of orphanages and foster homes, Mr. Buchwald was committed to the work of Community Services and worked tirelessly to raise money for its otherwise unfunded programs.

"Art Buchwald was a one-of-a-kind human being, and there's no one who will ever replace him, at the podium or in our hearts," Ms. Hatchard said. "His friends and family are gathering to honor him and support his cause this year, for which we are deeply grateful."

To help fill Art's very large shoes, or in the case of the auction, his famous hat, Livingston Taylor, Bob Vila, and Harold Ramis will join forces as guest auctioneers. They'll support the auction's longtime co-auctioneers, Susan Klein and Rick Lee. Together, they hope to conjure up Mr. Buchwald's great generosity of spirit.

Part of the Hats Off to Art tribute is the catalogue of spectacular dreams.

"People really wanted to honor Art," Ms. Hatchard said. "They've gone above and beyond to do so."

If Formula One doesn't rev your engines, there are 47 other enticing adventures to bid on. These don't include the dreams that come in at the last minute, sometimes as late as auction day.

"The dreams are unique and special and that's why people buy them," Ms. Hatchard said.

For sports enthusiasts, there are two Red Sox dreams. Four fortunate fans will get the chance to watch the August 30 Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium. If you prefer Fenway Park, bid on the owner's box seats and the opportunity to watch a game with Alan Dershowitz and David Ginsberg.

President Clinton's set of Vineyard golf clubs will be on the auction block. Last summer, he donated one of his favorite putters to the auction, raising $22,000, but this year he has shipped his entire set of clubs in honor of Mr. Buchwald. They came in a couple of weeks ago thanks to Bill and Nancy Rollnick.

"Our donors are so generous," said Ms. Hatchard.

One such donor, Olga Hirshhorn, has been attending the auction for 18 years. This year she's offering Boule and Brunch to six lucky people at her Vineyard Haven home. Ms. Hirshhorn is also the curator of the Chicken Alley Art and Collectibles Sale on Sunday, August 12 at the Community Services thrift shop. She said the auction has given her a lot of joy over the years.

"We're all going to miss Art Buchwald," she said. "He was a big draw."

She said she likes to bid on local adventures. She's looked for lobsters in Menemsha, gone on a jeep tour of Chappaquidick with Island mystery writer Phil Craig and fished with Cooper Gilkes.

Mr. Craig, who died in May, will also be remembered at this year's auction. He donated a dream every year since 1996, and his family will continue that tradition this year by offering the successful bidder a chance to have their name and the name of one other person in Mr. Craig's next book, Vineyard Chill, to be published next year. The dream also includes cocktails for four at the Craig residence in Edgartown and the last signed copy of Mr. Craig's book, Dead in Vineyard Sand, which Edgartown Books put aside especially for this year's auction.

Ms. Hirshhorn said the auction is such an important part of the Island community. With so many big fundraisers coming up in the next couple of weeks, it's important to leave room in the week and in the wallet to help out Community Services.

Of course, for many, the night's fantasy dreams are financially out of reach. Instead, the theatrical evening of people watching and the excitement surrounding the bidding is worth the $25 price of admission.

"There's no telling what will happen," said Susan Klein, who will be up on stage with Rick Lee for their eighth year as auctioneers. She said the spontaneity adds to the fun. "It's popping."

In the past, the auction has finished with Art Buchwald auctioning off the hat on his head, raising a couple of final thousand dollars. This year, auction chairman Jim Shane asked Island painter Meg Mercier to capture the night's festivities in a painting, which will be auctioned off at the very end.

Not wanting to give away too many of the surprise details, Ms. Hatchard said, "We will be taking our hats off to Art. I can say that. We loved him very much."