Rotarian Neil Flynn with some of the bikes that will be auctioned off at this year’s Rotary Auction. The auction is this Saturday at SEAPARC Leisure Complex.

Rotary auction comes with community spirit

Spanning into 70 booths, more than 700 items, the all-day event could be the biggest auction yet in Sooke.

What’s the loudest noise in Sooke? Is it the pounding waves of the Pacific? The echoing squawk of an eagle? It’s neither. It’s the beating heart of a volunteer.

As the Sooke Rotary Club ramps up for its 26th auction this Saturday (April 30) at  SEAPARC Leisure Complex, the Sooke Mirror took a closer look at the small army of volunteers who work tirelessly to bring it all together.

So far this year, the Rotary accumulated more than $60,000 worth of goods and services for the auction; everything from gift cards from local businesses, bikes, to original artwork, to fishing equipment. Even a kayak.

Sounds easier than it is, noted Neil Flynn, the Rotary’s “auction king” who’s helped coordinate the auction’s planning and development for the last 10 years.

“It’s a huge event, so getting it all set up in a couple of days, getting enough volunteers, coordinating the collection of 700 items for the live and the silent auction, that’s a huge effort,” he said, adding that takes what seems like months.

Spanning into 70 booths, complete with full catering services and a wide selection of items to bid on, the operation is not what anyone would call simple. Still, Flynn said he enjoys doing it.

“I enjoy the challenge of it and making it all happen, because we know it’s an important event for the Sooke community.”

The auction has certainly come a long way, recalls Jerry Van Ek, who, since joining Sooke Rotary nearly 28 years ago, is one of the club’s longest-serving members. Having been a pivotal point of the auction’s evolution and success, Ek now looks back with pride.

“I’m very satisfied in doing what I did. I’ve been focusing personally on the Sooke community because that’s where I felt I could make my best contribution,” he said. “If you want to do something worthwhile with your time, this is certainly one of the avenues that you can do it in.”

Ek’s time with the auction goes back to the start when it began as a garage sale upstairs at the Sooke Community Hall in 1990, with a separate silent auction displaying items across 25 tables.

The garage sale was not very satisfying, as they’d end up with a lot of leftover merchandise which they had to figure out how to get rid of it all, Ek said.

They then did away with the garage sale and focused on the silent auction during the day and the live auction in the evening, which grew into a bigger and bigger social event.

“The big shift in gears came when we left the community hall and went over to the SEAPARC at the area in late 1990s,” said Ek.

“We had room to add stuff to it, have it become more attractive to people. We made food available around suppertime, and entertainment grew, and it became quite successful as a fundraiser.”

To sweeten the deal, Rotarians started bringing in musicians for entertainment, and local restaurants became involved to provide food and drink to visitors.

This year, a cash bar is also available.

Still, biggest challenge every year is collecting donations throughout the community from individuals and businesses, and organizing it all into a single event.

“That’s a challenge for the person in charge, because they don’t get everything until the very last day, but it always seems to come together,” Ek said.

For Flynn, it’s already routine. Set it up, bring it all together, then take it all apart and plan for the next one.

“We dissect what went on, what could be improved, and then starting in September we start to plan it out again,” he said.

New this year is the Sooke Hall of Excellence, where visitors can see firsthand some of the most giving and dedicated people in the local community.

The Rotary silent auction begins this Saturday at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony and runs until 5 p.m. The live auction runs from 6 to 9 p.m.