Appleton parish boasts northeast Wisconsin’s ‘Largest Rummage Sale’

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | July 21, 2010

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Kim Oskar, left, Ashley Jensen and Karen Jensen are pictured in the “toy department” of what is known as Northeast Wisconsin’s Largest Rummage Sale, set for July 29 to Aug. 1 at St. Bernadette Parish in Appleton. Last year’s sale raised $38,000 for parish projects. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)

And expect department store-type service. Clothing is arranged by size and color and everything has been cleaned. Men of the parish repair furniture items and check electrical appliances. Pick-up of donated furniture and delivery to the elderly and those without a truck is available.

“For me, the key to a sale is (being) clean; it has to be washed, clean and organized,” said co-chair Karen Jensen. “You can’t have everything thrown on a big pile. People aren’t going to dig.”

Jensen and Kim Oskar have chaired the event for three years. Jensen, an avid rummage saler, joined the sale when she moved to the parish 14 years ago. The sale had been going on several years before that, but things really changed when Oskar joined the team.

“I had heard through the grapevine that there was a great sale and I came to check it out,” Oskar said. “And I noticed that on some of the older things, the antiques, the prices were way too low. And I told Donna (Seidl, who ran the sale with her husband, Jerry, for many years) and she asked if I would mind walking through and telling us how much they’re worth. And one thing led to another.”

Sue Taylor, who handles marketing, came up with the title of “Northeast Wisconsin’s Largest Rummage Sale.” No one knows if the claim is true, but the sale certainly is a contender. Thousands of people come each year for the four-day sale. Oskar and Jensen know of families who time their reunions to the sale.

The funds raised reveal its popularity. Last year, proceeds were $38,000. (A contingent bake sale raised another $1,200).

Rummaging facts

Where: St. Bernadette School, 2331 E. Lourdes Drive, Appleton

When: July 29-31, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Aug. 1, 7 a.m. to noon

What: Clothes, toys, furniture, tools, crafts, sporting goods, antiques

Also: Check out the parish picnic on the weekend.

Sale tips: Look around. It’s not just in the gym.

Dress cool: No air conditioning.

Ask for help: The parish youth will help carry items to your car.

Keep checking back: Prices go down each day.

All that money goes to the parish. Patty Eichhorst, business manager, said it funds various needs. But the cream goes to charity outside the parish.

“Ten percent is earmarked for the missions,” Eichhorst said. “So our mission group decides how to split it. It can be St. Anthony Parish in Neopit, St. Joe’s Food Pantry, or the homeless shelter, as well as national programs. A lot has gone to South America. Last year, it was about $5,000 (including the parish picnic proceeds).”

For Jensen, Oskar and their core team of 30 volunteers — more are always needed — it isn’t just about charity needs after the sale, but also about helping people at the sale. Before the Saturday Bag Day, they let volunteers from shelters and homes for mothers with babies come in to select baby goods. The sale’s leftovers — which fill trailers — are offered to Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul. Clothes go to the missions.

And then there are individuals in need.

“Every year,” said Oskar, “we get at least one couple or two, a young man and woman. She’s pregnant. They don’t have much money. And they’re here for hours. When they leave, they have so much to take home: baby clothes, a stroller, a crib, dishes.”

Jensen remembers one lady who needed a kitchen table. “She wanted this table and she couldn’t afford it. She was cleaning her pockets out to the last penny. I said, ‘Take the table.’ She was so happy to have a table to eat on that night.”

Besides the usual items, donations range to the more exotic; from an heirloom ring Oskar had priced at a pawnshop to lace-trimmed bridal gowns.

The list of items also includes:

• One year brought a hand-operated wringer washer.

•Another year, saw a spittoon. (Remember, they clean everything.)

•Oskar’s daughter, Audrey, remembers the 19th century violin that, unfortunately, was carried off during the bag sale.

•A suitcase that “looked like a canned ham,” traveled from room to room as a doorstop one year.

•This year has yielded an engraved boy scout bugle that Oskar is researching on the Internet.

•And then there are also the glass pipes, adorned with gold leaf and porcelain flowers, that someone advised them to put away because “they looked like marijuana pipes.” (Oskar disagrees, saying they are “decorative Bohemian.”)

One key to the sale’s success is Oskar’s decision to take out large ads, listing as many items as they can “because it attracts more people.”

Jensen reluctantly agreed to the first $100 ad.

“Kim was absolutely right,” she now admits. “That’s how the wringer washer got sold. A lady who was 100 years old read the ad and wanted it.” (Jensen had it delivered.)

The big money makers are, of course, clothing and furniture. Toys also sell well.

But holiday items lag. Maybe it’s because the sale is held in summer in a building that lacks air conditioning.

“People aren’t thinking ahead in August,” said Jensen. “And the winter clothing? You can’t give the mittens away.”

No matter what’s left over, though, everything is cleaned out by Sunday evening because the teachers need to get back to their classrooms. The floors are scheduled to be stripped on Monday.

In the meantime, the rooms continue to fill. And Jensen still wants more.

“I’ll go get somebody’s stuff, whether they have a truck or not because I want the stuff,” she said. “You’ve got to have stuff to sell. So if it means we go get it from you, I will.”

With everything that comes in, Jensen and Oskar admit they don’t attend as many other rummage sales as they used to. But that doesn’t mean the fun has diminished.

For Oskar, “the mystery” of the items brought in still traps her interest. While Jensen accuses her of “letting the items talk to her” about their value, her resulting pricing system works. And if people, as some always do, don’t like a price, Oskar has a ready answer:

“I tell them, ‘Today the price is marked. On Saturday, it will be half price, and on Sunday, it will be free.’ The price has got to be right (for you) one of those days.”

Mostly, though, Oskar hopes “people come to check us out, even if they don’t buy anything. It’s an event you have to see with your own eyes to believe.”

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