Auctioneering for good

  • Photo/Marcy Patterson 
Jess and Daphne Spradlin at a Mia Ware Foundation auction event.
  • Photo/Special to The Source Newspaper 
Grandson Otto wanted to join Jess Spradlin up on the mic at an auction.
  •  Photo/Special to The Source Newspaper 
A screenshot of an email written to Jess Spradlin from the late Ken Bradbury describes the impact both financially and purely as a person that Spradlin can have leading benefit auctions.

By Kyla Hurt

Franklin High School, he worked at the auction house of his uncle, Gordy Spradlin, in Springfield. “Every other Tuesday night, he had an auction at the auction house, so he said, ‘Tuesday nights, you gotta stay late and work at the auction, hold stuff up, be a ring man.’ … I’d been to some auctions with my dad, but didn’t think a thing about it until I was there … This was how it had always been, once I was there and saw him up there doing that [auctioneering] and thought it was pretty cool. So, I asked my uncle how he learned to do that.”

His uncle told him about an auctioneer’s book that he had from Missouri Auction School, so Jess Spradlin borrowed it and read about all the tongue twisters and chants, practicing and practicing. The next Tuesday night came and Gordy Spradlin approached him about an hour into the auction to jump on up and run the auction for a while, unaware of how much Jess Spradlin had been practicing. “So I got up there in front of the crowd and auctioneered for about an hour, and I’m sure I did terribly,” remarked, at the time, an almost 17-year-old Jess Spradlin. But, when he finished out the auction, his uncle and friends praised him. “I’ve thought back to that night a million times and though how important it is to be supportive of kids when they do something, because had they not said anything or hadn’t been supportive of me, I might not have ever tried it again.” Every two weeks after that, Spradlin was running most of the auctions.

His senior year, Spradlin put together his first auction in Alexander. He began to do more and more, including working with Palmyra Auction Barn auctions during the daytime on Wednesdays in high school with the approval of his parents and teachers both. He also worked Tuesday nights in Roodhouse at an auction house, plus working with Middendorf some then. Spradlin’s exposure had especially grown by the time he was out of high school. So, he decided to have some business cards made up. It was 1980 and he went in to Krell’s Quick Print. Chuck Krell was “kind of got, he thought it was so cool that a 17-year-old kid wanted business cards.” Krell started talking about the AMBUCS auction and invited Spradlin to come. Spradlin ran about an hour of the auction that year and that kicked off his work with benefit auctions. Spradlin now does many benefit auctions, but was quick to point out that, “I’m not the one … one thing that I have to stress is that so many other auctioneers [in this area] do benefit auctions, as well.

Jess Spradlin moved to Jacksonville from Alexander when he was 18 for a girl; her name was Daphne Haggard. In 1983, two weeks before Spradlin would be 20, the two were married.

One month before turning 22, Spradlin started his mobile home business. Due to its growth, he wouldn’t seek out auctions at that time, but would do them if asked. He wanted to stay practiced with auctions, plus “I just had a ton of fun doing it. I like to auctioneer. I like people and I just had a good time doing them.” Spradlin went back to his youth, adding an explanation that, “I grew up in a family where there was four of us kids and I’m the youngest … my mom and dad were great people and we had very vibrant conversations at the dinner table or wherever … and I feel like a lot of times when I’m doing auctions, I’m just trading barks and kidding back and forth with my brothers and sisters and my mom and dad.” He’d done quite a few each year, as well as the other auctioneers in the area, he insisted, but continued to say that it in the last 30 years, it’s become more frequent. “Actually, it’s become a big part of Daphne and I’s social life … I don’t know how many every year, but I’d estimate between 25 and 30 every year that I volunteer my time for … we enjoy it.”

The spontaneity suits Spradlin. As an outsider, it’s fascinating to watch an auctioneer in his or her “zone.” What makes it extraordinarily special is that Spradlin and other auctioneers are able to make an impact on the lives of a family who is suffering or struggling, be it a fundraising auction for medical bills, sickness, a physical loss, personal loss or other — to be able to take part in something that can change an outlook or future is magical. It’s those types of benefit auctions that are most rewarding, continues Spradlin. “It’s so cool to be a part of an event where the community comes out so huge … everybody comes out to work and to help a family … I’ve seen the most amazing things happen. I was working an auction once at the Moose Lodge, and not just me … in fact, I wasn’t the auctioneer at the time … Leroy Moss was. But, there was a 14-year-old kid who had cancer, and a friend of their family had ties to the NFL and he had really nice NFL stuff … I mean, autographed footballs, jerseys … and it was a time when business was good for people and this auction was just going huge … it was absolutely going huge … and I held up an autographed Steve Young autographed jersey and it started to sell … and the local Ford dealer and the local Chevy dealer were bidding against each other as kind of a fun, competitive thing … and it gets up or eight or 9,000 dollars … and then a third person starts bidding … and then it’s $12,000, and then $15,000 … then $18,000 … and then it’s finally $20,000 dollars … and the third person that was bidding, none of us knew this person, but I walked over and handed the jersey to that guy. [The guy who won the bid] looked at the jersey for a second, then he walked over to the kid sitting in his wheelchair and handed it to him. He paid $20,000 for it and gave it to the kid. It stopped the auction. There was not a dry eye in the house.”

That’s just one story of the selflessness that he’s witnessed. That’s the real story. Spradlin is able to give of his talent, but he and other auctioneers that donate their time to these benefit auctions are witness to agape love. They are witness to people who cannot afford it, but see “buddies who get together and pay $1,400 for this old $5 fishing cooler” to benefit the wife and four kids of their friend they’d lost. “I’ve been a part of hundreds of these things where you see somebody in the crowd do a really grand gesture, and it’s really rewarding to be a part of that,” Spradlin added.

Fundraising auctions locally have been phenomenal. Spradlin says he has been a part of multiple $50,000 fundraising auctions. He plays to his crowd and enjoys it. For him and any of our area auctioneers, it’s a blessing to use their abilities and skills to help those in need. Spradlin has been involved with many auctions annually and consistently throughout his years, including but not limited to: P.A.W.S., Ducks Unlimited, AMBUCS, Western Illinois Youth Camp, Mia Ware Foundation, the Jacksonville Symphony Society and Jacksonville Promise.

Of note, Spradlin would like to mention Randy Ferguson as his often clerk, “recording everything I’m doing … which is pretty amazing because I go fast,” and also Larry Schmaljohn as his ring man, catching bids from the crowd. The two help purely as volunteers and are not in the auction business. About the work he does with benefit auctions, Spradlin ends saying, “I sincerely do feel that way … I feel like I get back from it more than I give. I think you have to feel that way or you wouldn’t keep doing it. I’m having fun.”

Spradlin recently opened Spradlin Auction Center in Jacksonville, located at 905 E. Morton Ave., having held his first auction there on July 13. Those interested in finding out more about his auction center can visit or call 217-602-0111.

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About the author

Kyla Hurt is a capable boondoggler trained in the arts; she’s also an accomplished event coordinator with experience from museum fundraising to art festivals. She enjoys puppies, sunshine, and good radishes – and wit. Wit is good, too.

View all articles by Kyla Hurt