Rural Missouri - March 2018 - 44

RM

| NEIGHBORS

Everything from
chickens to bulldozers
by Paul Newton | pnewton@ruralmissouri.coop

D

iamond rings. Tractors. Weathervanes. Air compressors. Grecian urns.
Totem poles. Livestock. You name it
Chillicothe
and Mike and Marti Miller of Chillicothe
have probably sold it.
For more than four decades Mike's voice has rung
throughout northwest Missouri as he's called thousands of auctions for locals. With Marti clerking the
sales, the couple brought a sense of community and
fun while helping charities raise money, families liquidate estates and everything in between.
"We've sold just about everything in this area for almost 44 years," Mike
says. "We just thought it was time to give it up. I miss the people, but I don't
think I'll miss doing the auctions when its 5 below zero or 105 in the shade."
Calling auctions is in Mike's blood. While he eventually earned his nickname
of "Colonel" with an auctioneering degree from Mason City, Iowa, Mike already
had his foot in the door. His father, Joe, also called auctions for 40-plus years
and Mike would help at the sales when he was younger.
"It was kind of by accident that I started in 1974. I
was clerking and writing stuff down for my dad when
all of a sudden he said 'get up there and start selling'
out of the blue," Mike recalls with a smile. "I think
we were just selling a bunch of junk at that auction.
A lot of rusty bolts and nails."
Mike and Marti say while the bulk of their work
was the behind-the-scenes tasks to prepare for auctions, the sales themselves were the most enjoyable.
They worked to create a fun atmosphere that people
enjoyed.
"We'd always tell some jokes and keep people
engaged," says Marti. "I was always amused when we did sales closer to Kansas City. When folks from the city got there, they were stone faced. Then at the
end when they were paying their bill, they were all smiles and telling us they
had fun. That's what we wanted."
The Farmers' Electric Cooperative members estimate they've done approximately 5,000 auctions, averaging a little more than 100 per year. Their auctions generally were within a 45-mile radius of their Livingston County home.

Above: Mike and Marti Miller retired after calling auctions in Livingston County for 44 years.
Below: Mike, left, shares a laugh with Kansas City Royals pitcher Dennis Leonard, former
Farmers' Electric manager Dan Bryan and Steve Shoot during an auction.
Auctioneering forces you to wear multiple hats and Mike says they were a
well-oiled machine. They advertised the sale in the local newspapers, inventoried whatever was to be sold, posted sale bills online and prepared the site for
where the sale would be held. Mike says conducting
the sale constituted less than 10 percent of the work
he did.
"You kind of have dueling roles," he says. "You have
to be an auctioneer and an appraiser. You have to
know what things are, whether it's a tractor, livestock
or land. You're trying to get as much as you can for
your client, but you have to treat people fairly and the
right way. They have to know you know what you're
talking about."
During his long career, Mike says he only lost his
voice once or twice. He used tricks like never facing the
wind during an auction and leaning into his microphone. "And you don't drink
cold drinks when it's hot out," he adds. "It had to be room temperature. Cold
drinks tighten up your vocal chords."
Mike has seen a garden variety of interesting auction items since selling his
first rusty bolts and nails. While he has sold land with values of more than
$1 million, he says some auctions stay with him for their oddities. The first
was a diamond ring that was appraised for $50,000 and ended up bringing in
$10,000 more than that at auction with bidders from multiple states.
"Another time I had a guy who called me and said he wanted to do an auction and when I asked him what we were going to sell he just said 'rabbits,' "
he says. "I had never seen or heard of a rabbit sale before or since, but he got
people there and we auctioned off about 40 tame rabbits."
The duo also gave their services to local charities helping raise funds for
needed causes. They estimate that they've helped raise around $4 million for
charities at auctions. That included the Area Youth Benefit Fund auction hosted by Farmers' Electric Cooperative.
"The Farmers' Electric auction was one of our favorites because it benefits
youth in our area who have illnesses," Marti adds. "They're all big though, and
raise a lot of money."
That generosity is one of the reasons the couple loves the community that
Mike has called home his entire life.
"The people here are so friendly and generous with their money when there
are families in need," he says. "In my opinion, Livingston County is the greatest
place to grow up and raise a family. It's not too big or too small, it's what we're
used to."
Marti says that exact hospitality and friendliness was what their auctions
were all about. She equates them to a small-town ritual of the past.
"I tell people it's like an old-fashioned ice cream social," she says. "It's as
much about the social interaction and coming together as a community as it is
about buying specific items."

Couple spends 44
years auctioning
items in northwest
Missouri

44

RURAL MISSOURI | MARCH 2018



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