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For 33 years, the people in the small Louisiana town of Minden have been running an auction to help raise money for the patients of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And each year, the town of about 13,000 residents has raised more and more to help the hospital in its mission of finding cures and saving children. This year’s Minden St. Jude Auction was no exception.

In what has nearly become an annual occurrence, Minden citizens set a new fundraising record for the event by collecting $876,264, more than $87,000 better than last year’s previous record, according to co-chair Melissa Brown. A lifelong resident of Minden, Brown is in her second year as co-chair along with Christie Ruple, who has served for six years.

“We were a little bit nervous going into it this year, of course, but it was wonderful,” Ruple said.

Since its beginnings on Minden’s KASO 1240 AM more than 30 years ago, the St. Jude Minden Auction has grown to become a four-day telethon and raffle eagerly anticipated by the town’s residents. The auction is broadcast on KASO/KBEF and a local cable station channel.

The co-chairs received a hint of how the 2009 auction would go when, in October 2008, they began their process of soliciting sponsors. Nearly all the 2008 sponsors returned and even a few new ones signed on. Those two factors helped relieve some of the pre-event anxiety that Ruple and Brown were feeling. By the time the auction came around January 29 through February 1, Ruple and Brown felt confident they could match last year’s total. But exceeding it? That seemed a little too much to ask.

But the dedication of Ruple, Brown, thousands of volunteers and the town’s citizens once again showed that while the town may be small, their collective heart is the size of a state.

The auction began on Thursday and ran through Sunday, culminating in the grand-prize drawing for a new automobile. And in between, there are dozens of events such as a statewide chili cook-off, kids activities, steak dinners and, new for 2009, a 5K race, organized by volunteers.

“They had over 200 entries,” Brown said, “and they had enough interest for a 10K to have that next year. They have some big plans.”

Companies from around the region donated numerous items for the auction, including a boat, golf cart, playhouse, generator, riding lawnmower, laptop, a ruby and diamond necklace and a trip for four to Disneyworld.

The school children of Webster Parish also demonstrated their support for St. Jude by donating nearly $100,000, through various side events such as the “90-minute mini-radiothons” where they go classroom by classroom, asking for donations, Brown said.

This year’s grand prize had a twist to it. The lucky winner could choose from one of following prizes: a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette, a 2009 Buick Enclave or a 2009 Mercedes C300. Rick and Stacy Thomas of Minden won the grand prize and selected the Corvette.

About 2,000 raffle tickets were available for the grand prize, almost all of which were gone by the second day of the auction. “Having the three choices added some interest to it,” Ruple said. “Plus, Minden is just a good community.”

“It’s nothing that words can describe,” Brown said about how the community rallies around the cause of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, “especially as long as we have been doing this event. Most events don’t have the lifespan of half this long. And I don’t know what we are doing right, but we are obviously doing something right.”

March 2009