By any measure, Mike Niedens – the auctioneer – has faced his share of life challenges. I suppose somewhere near the top would be the 12 months he spent on the frontline in a place called Vietnam. He arrived there as a twenty year old in March, 1968 two weeks after the Tet Offensive, which historians describe as the turning point in the war.
But what he faced last Saturday at 1911 McKinney Drive was a much different, but still a formidable challenge – getting a bid on a vintage white wicker floor lamp at Bob Parrish’s estate sale.
I was taking in Niedens’ precise articulation skills while sitting comfortably on large white divan in the back yard of Parish’s house. The couch was quite comfortable, no doubt because its springs had never had the privilege of supporting a bottom as large as mine. Adding to the ambiance at that moment was a gentle north breeze, with a couple cardinals chirping away in the oak tree above me. It wasn’t just my eyes and ears being quenched with stimuli. My nose had company as well; I could smell the aroma of BBQ pork chops wafting from Sue’s BBQ parked in front.
Adding to my fine company – my wife was inspecting a silver tea set at the north end of the yard, and my dad Larry was sitting to my left taking it in from his vantage point.
And yes, at that moment, life was never better. Provided someone would buy that lamp so Mike could get to that silver tea set.
“Who’ll give 10 dollars? Five dollars?” Mike was showing the skill set he acquired from working with Larry Carr for 23 years. In fairness to the late mayor, the lamp was an attractive piece, and there was an abundance of other wicker furniture. If you love wicker furniture, this was your sale. “My mom loved wicker furniture and after she passed away dad didn’t want to disturb anything,” his daughter Cheryl told me. Bob’s wife Polly went to the heavens in 2005, and after 56 years of being together, one can understand Bob’s continued devotion to the style.
Parrish passed away the day before his 90th birthday.
But to focus on furniture would neglect the other offerings. This sale had it all – a product of a life well lived by a man whose life legacy would be worthy of its own History Channel mini-series.
Imagine an episode of “Storage Wars” but without commercials disrupting the flow the second after Jarrod with his side-kick Brandi open up a cardboard box and says “WOW!” Think “American Pickers” without the lead character taking viewers down long dusty roads to find a large barn hiding old bicycle tires. Consider an episode of “Pawn Stars” but without an obese stoner named Chumlee haggling you on price.
Adding to the color of Mike’s barking was his crew of Kenny Alefs, Richard Stalcup, Dianne Morse and Dustin Kirkman.
This weekend adventure was weeks in planning – for many. The news of the auction was shared with me in early June at the VFW by Niedens, and conveniently he had in his possession a flier which identified in meticulous detail some items my wife would find interesting. Namely china, silver, china, silver. I called her from the VFW as I sipped my Coors light. “Let’s go” she said.
When we arrived in River City at 10 that morning, Dad gathered us at the house on 17th street to impart his auction advice. He knows auction protocols of course, acquired from observing his dad P.L. and then his brother Pat Junior barking out sales for the better part of 75 years.
He gathered me, Lori and my kid sister Beth around and really had only admonition: “Don’t ever be the first bidder on anything. No matter how badly you want it.”
No sooner had Mike began his sale, I became the proud owner of a couple bankers boxes of 1970 era technology that will someday find its way to the Smithsonian. This included a Kodak 804 Instamatic camera that would prompt stares by an iPhone-loving millennial. As the sale continued, very quickly I had forgotten Dad’s advice, which explains why I took home a priceless hand knit throw rug.
Lori, on the other hand, stayed true to Larry’s tip and got a fair price on a four-piece Wilcox 1903 Dru Barry tea set. Google it.
But this column wouldn’t be complete with some commentary on the life and times of the two-term mayor and longtime Dodge dealer. A walk through of his possessions gives an outsider some sense for his life, but still wouldn’t begin to capture Bob Parrish’s legacy. As pretty much everyone in Great Bend knows, Bob was an iconic leader of the City who both created history and then shared it with others. A World War II veteran, and pilot, he was an active member of the Republican party, he and his life partner Polly attended several national conventions. The sale included many political buttons from the 60’s and 70’s and quite possibly a record collection of pins with someone named Dole on them.
“The Great Bend community was so good to my dad after mom left him. He stayed so busy with his coffee group and his involvement at the Historical society,” his daughter Cheryl told me. Bob was the treasurer at the Historical Society for six years and was central to organizing the B-29 Plaza Committee. “He was a great promoter for Great Bend and Kansas,” shared Beverly Komarek at the Historical Society. “He was also a great student of history and was very knowledgeable about Western Civilization as well as the western expansion through Kansas. I would tag along behind him on his tours because he knew so much. We really miss him.”
And so when estate sale began to drag, Niedens would remind the assembled ... “at 1 p.m. we will sell the guns, the coins and the watches.” Everyone perked up.
The auction concluded in the garage where the aforementioned items were placed on a table. There gathered everyone – those intent on bidding, those intent on watching, and those who were prepared for disregarding Larry’s advice. But enough of me.
And then came the antique watch. The bidding started and continued. I was in the mix. But when the bidding got too high I told Mike – “I’m out.” Nevertheless the bidding continued. The winner? A lady standing behind me. My wife.
The next morning we returned to Leawood with a little bit of history in our back seat, including a collection of those political buttons. On Wednesday I carried those pins to the storage bay at my office and found a safe place for them. And when I did, I paused to think about Bob and Polly’s life, their adventures, and their contribution to a town that I still call home.