Have you ever attended an STM dinner auction? Do you know how the event got started?
In 1983, school administrators were faced with a growing gap between the cost of tuition and the full cost to educate Thomas More students. Not wanting to make up that difference with a drastic tuition hike, the leadership team analyzed various types of large-scale fundraisers to raise additional revenue for the 1983-84 school year. The winning idea: an auction that would bring hundreds of school benefactors together to bid on items and reminisce with their friends and colleagues, all while supporting Thomas More. The event would be themed “Renaissance ’84.”
At that time, Thomas More covered roughly 12 percent of the school’s total operating expenses through fundraising. In comparison, for the 2020-21 school year, St. Thomas More’s fundraising revenue will equal about 25 percent of the school’s total operating expenses.
“We have made an effort to upgrade the quality of our fundraising events,” Tom Spiegel, the Director of Development at the time, said in the spring 1984 alumni newsletter. “Renaissance ’84 should be one of the premier auctions around.”
Without the precedent and policies in place from past events, the first Thomas More auction took a year-and-a-half to plan. In addition to attending other schools’ auctions, the planning committee recruited professional auctioneer Tim Duggan to act as a consultant during the planning process. As one of the top five auctioneers in the United States, Duggan used his experience with charity auctions to help the committee acquire unique, “big-ticket” items that would reap maximum dollars for the school.
Some items auctioned off at the first event included a Seiko TV wristwatch, a GE 45-inch giant screen television, and a Snapper Hi-Vac riding mower. Much like the events in recent years, there was something for everyone in the item program book, including sentimental items, such as a brick from the Don Bosco High School building. The most prominent item at the auction, however, was a 1979 Porsche 924.
“I was a freshman at Thomas More during the first auction event,” said Athletic Director John Hoch (TM ’87). “The buzz around the event — especially the Porsche that was up for auction — was really cool to see considering how many different groups were involved.”
Planning for the event united parents, students, and alumni, including those from Thomas More’s predecessor schools: Don Bosco, Pio Nono, and St. Francis Minor Seminary. “We have a group of very dedicated people from various organizations with a winning mentality, which should prove successful,” Spiegel said in an alumni publication. The theme, Renaissance ’84, celebrated “a rebirth of the past school spirits of Pio Nono, Don Bosco, and Thomas More, aimed at forming a new combined spirit of the community which we can all support,” Spiegel continued.
Much like with the 1984 event, more recent St. Thomas More auctions have continued to benefit from a unified Auction Committee that brings together these different groups of school stakeholders to create a memorable experience for our event participants. The Committee meets early in the fall to discuss next spring’s auction, with conversations usually centered on determining the event’s theme. “People really look forward to the unveiling of the event’s theme each year,” said Events Coordinator Dan Steffes (TM ’03). “This year’s theme, MOREopoly, celebrates how families everywhere occupied their time at home with board games and puzzles over the last year.”
Renaissance ‘84 was deemed a massive success. In the 1984 alumni newsletter, Mrs. Pat Alles, an auction volunteer and mother of Matthew Alles (TM ’86), said the event was “great and a lot of fun” and that of all the other fundraising auction she had attended, Thomas More’s event “was one of the classiest.”
At the 1984 event, Thomas More hoped to raise $25,000, and thanks to 280 attendees and 50 volunteers, the school raised $31,000. These donations would become seed money for an endowment fund designed to stabilize tuition and offset the increase in school expenses. The endowment would be “a way of ensuring the existence of this institution,” author Dave Roback (TM ’85) explained in the 1984 alumni newsletter.
The overwhelming alumni and community support harnessed for the first auction has continued to power the event over the last 38 years. As participation from alumni, local businesses, and community members has grown over the years, so has the auction’s fundraising revenue — from $31,000 in 1984 to $180,000 in 2020.
“It is always inspiring to see sponsorships come in each year for the auction,” said Steffes. “We have many longtime, annual supporters, but we also have new ones that join us each year. That’s what has made MOREopoly so special this year — it’s a wonderful mix of longtime supporters and brand-new ones. It’s very representative of the STM family’s past, present, and future.”
MOREopoly will take place as a virtual event from March 19 to March 26. Bidding on over 150 items opens on Friday, March 19, and closes on Thursday, March 25. Mirroring the traditional scholarship appeal at our in-person auctions, STM will host Fund the Future Friday on March 26, when we will use videos on our social media pages to encourage supporters to make donations. All donations to Fund the Future Friday are 100 percent tax-deductible and will fund scholarships for students who might otherwise not reap the benefits of a St. Thomas More education. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more information!
About the Author
Katlyn Putney (STM ’10) has been the Marketing and Volunteer Coordinator at STM since fall 2015 and serves as graphic designer and editor-in-chief of the Spirit. She also coaches girls’ JV basketball and girls’ JV soccer.