Larry Sears, middle, owner of Sales by Sears seeks out bidders on a piece of furniture he was selling during his last consignment auction held Saturday, June 20, at the Poweshiek County Fairgrounds. Sales by Sears was founded in 1958, by Sears' father, Dick. Sears joined his father in the business in 1970, and took it over in 1986. Sears will continue auctioneering at fundraisers, and working as a contract auctioneer. At left is Jim Andersen, and at right is Sears' grandson, Josiah Brown. About 200 people came to the final auction.
SOLD! THE FINAL BID: Larry Sears holds final consignment auction in long, storied career
As the gavel hit the podium for the last time and the final “sold” rang across the crowd Saturday afternoon, an auctioneer known for integrity and honesty closed up shop.
Larry Sears, owner of the Grinnell-based Sales by Sears, held his last consignment auction at the Poweshiek County Fairgrounds, ending an era that his father, Dick Sears, started in 1958.
“I’ve worked with a lot of bidders as well as consigners through the years,” recalled the 72-year-old Sears as bidding got underway. “Over the years I have had excellent people to work with including the current auction team.”
As people checked out tables of unsold items, bid on boxes of dishes, furniture, tools and other household goods, the last day, at times, became emotional for Sears as he stopped periodically to introduce his former employees, his fellow auctioneers, and family members who came to show their support and bid him farewell.
“It’s bittersweet,” said his daughter Suzanne Sears, a schoolteacher in Des Moines, who recalled helping her dad many times through the years. “I’m proud of the way he ran his business. He cared about the people and their possessions. He’s a man of integrity. Fifty-years worth of integrity and honesty.”
“I think he will be missed in the business,” added Col. Loren “Doug” West, owner of the Auction Corner in Dillon, and fellow member of the Iowa Auctioneers Association (IAA). “He is as good of an auctioneer as I know. He’s honest, and faithful.”
Sears grew up on a farm north of Grinnell, and is a 1954 graduate of Grinnell High School.
In school, Sears was active in both 4-H, and FFA, and served terms as the Iowa Boys’ State 4-H President, and State FFA Vice President.
His favorite part of 4-H and FFA was showing dairy cattle, where he won many awards through the years. In 1954, Sears was asked to show his prize-winning Ayrshire heifer to then President Eisenhower during a visit to the Iowa State Fair. Sears got his first taste of auctioneering as a youngster watching the annual dairy cattle sales his father and grandfather held on the family farm.
“As a result (of those sales) my dad became interested in auctioneering,” recalled Sears.
In December 1957, the elder Sears enrolled in the world-renown Reppert School of Auctioneering in Indiana. A year later, at age 22, Sears followed suit and enrolled at Reppert to learn the auctioneering trade.
Following a two-year stint (1959-61) stateside in the U.S. Army, Sears moved to Vermont where he spent two years as editor of the Ayrshire Digest. In 1964, he moved to Wisconsin after accepting a position with the advertising staff at Hoard’s Dairyman.
“It’s the premier dairy cattle magazine,” recalled Sears.
In 1969, Sears returned to Iowa, living briefly in Eldora before returning to Grinnell to farm. He joined his father in the family-owned auction business in 1970, sharing auctioneering duties at farm, household, estate, and dairy auctions, his favorite. He took over the company outright in 1986. During his long career, Sears served as auctioneer at five National Ayrshire sales in Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine and Illinois. All totaled, he’s held dairy cattle sales in 11 different states, and once had the opportunity to sell what he termed as “high dollar” cattle that sold for as much as $5,000 per head. Sears was known among his fellow auctioneers, consigners, and employees for being fair, honest and trustworthy.
Beth Eddy, who worked with Sears for six years, said every paycheck she received had an encouraging note about something good she did at an auction or just a note of encouragement.
“The thing I appreciated about him is he always treated his customers with the highest esteem and respect,” said Eddy.
Sears’ reputation among the auctioneering community led to him being inducted into the IAA Hall of Fame in February 2008.
Sears began holding monthly consignment auctions in 1995. They were first held at the Old Factory Action Center (Spaulding Building) in Grinnell. He moved to the fairgrounds in 2004, after the building was sold to the Iowa Transportation Museum.
Sears’ monthly consignment auctions drew as many as 200 bidders, many coming month after month. Marvin and Darlene Blaess of Grinnell said they have attended nearly every auction that Sears has held, noting that he is a swell man. “He’s been a good friend of ours since we came to Grinnell,” said Marvin.
Sears said recent increases in rent on the fairgrounds building, the labor-intensive nature of consignment auctions, and recent break-ins and the loss of customers’ items at a Grinnell storage facility were factors that led to his decision to close the business.
“I decided it was time to discontinue consignment auctions,” said Sears.
Sears plans to continue selling advertising at the Pennysaver and writing features for special sections. He will remain available for fundraisers and to work as a contract auctioneer.
As the hours ticked by on Saturday, Sears milled about the building stopping to visit with his long-time customers, share the microphone with his fellow auctioneers and at one point, give his wife of 41 years, Nancy, a long and thankful kiss.
“It was a good day,” said Sears. “There were so many people that said kind things. I really enjoyed the day.
UPDATED June 26, 2009 10:11 AM