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Bumble Bear and Carmen Bearanda and Bear Naked Surfer Dude – Oh My!

This wasn't your average, everyday "art" on the auction block. These were 21 life-size bear statues individually painted by local artists. The bears became blank backdrops for everything from a historical scrapbook of the Oregon Caves Lodge, a local landmark, to "Carmen Bearanda" complete with the requisite fruit headdress and hoop earrings.

The evening's highest bid was for "Bloomin' Bear" by Vicki Magallon. Marilyn Hardie, a Gold Hill resident, became the proud owner. She commandeered the microphone and announced, "I just spent 12,500 dollars of my husband's money, and I'm happy." Afterward, her husband smiled as he responded, "God help me."

Another winning bidder, Vivian Van Allen, paid $10,000 for a bear adorned with aviator goggles, a parachute and roller skates. Many had dubbed it "Aviator Bear" and local pilots were vying for ownership. Van Allen said, "For me, it's the roller skates." She planned to move a few plants in order to place the sculpture in her backyard, near a stream.
She considered the purchase an early birthday present and had fallen in love with it at first sight. Her eyes got teary as she explained, "A close friend recently died and left an inheritance." She used the money to treat herself and honor her friend.

The entire event was underwritten by Evergreen Federal Bank, a local financial institution headquartered in Grants Pass with branches throughout Southern Oregon. The Grants Pass Bearfest - 2003 was the brainchild of bank President, Brady Adams. Sculptures adorned by artists and auctioned for charitable purposes is not a new idea. It originated in Zurich, Switzerland with "Cows on Parade" and has been modified for events internationally.

Evergreen Federal Bank incorporated the fund-raising drive into recent branch remodeling projects and the placement of high profile public art - bronze bears. The idea was launched and completed in three months, an astonishingly short period of time considering the sophistication of the campaign and its financial success.

Marketing Director, Al Devine and Marketing Assistant, Vickie Killians executed the fund-raising event under the direction of Evergreen Bank President, Brady Adams. Cross-promotional projects included a children's coloring contest and a trivia questionnaire based on a tour of the bears. They were strategically placed in the historic downtown area. Such efforts increased participation and were instrumental in the impressive turn-out for the auction; more than 1,700 local residents attended.

Bear sponsors donated $1,000 for the opportunity to display one of the sculptures in front of their business. Artists were selected by officials at Evergreen Bank and paid a minimal stipend of $500 which didn't even cover the cost of expenses for some of the bears. A warehouse was outfitted with makeshift artist studios in the guise of cubicles. Each artist had approximately one month to complete their vision.

Sponsors also selected a local charity or non-profit from a list prepared by Evergreen Bank. The entire amount paid by the winning bidder went to the respective charities; a total of 21 recipients. These included: Wildlife Images, Josephine County Literacy Council, Zonta, Jo. Co. Historical Society, Family Friends, Assante Family Support Housing, YMCA, Lions Club Eye Program, Coalition for Kids, Rogue Community College Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, Rogue Music Theatre, Women's Crisis Center, GP Chamber of Commerce Kiosk, SPARC & Stepping Stone, Gospel Rescue Mission, LoveJoy Hospice, GP Museum of Art, GP Rotary Club, SOASTC, and Faith House.

Call it "Auction Fever," but no one involved expected the bears to incite the shockingly high bids they received. Evergreen Bank had arranged additional prizes to create a package for the winning bidder and designated $500 of each sponsor's fee as an opening bid. Plans are already underway to make the "Bearfest" an annual event.

Several of the bears were purchased by local businesses and will be on permanent display for local residents. A Sacramento, California couple quickly informed the crowd gathered at the Grants Pass High School Gymnasium that the bear they purchased was staying in town. Chris Kane and her husband Stan Long are building a retirement home in Grants Pass and plan to install the bear on their lawn. Other bears will be placed in landscaped settings of private estates along the Rogue River.

The lowest winning bid was $4,500 with an average successful bid over $8,000. Four of the bears were auctioned for $10,000 or more. The high dollar bids demonstrate the generosity of this small Oregon town. They are significantly better than results for similar events in larger, metropolitan cities. With the auction clocking in at just under two hours, almost $1,500 per minute was raised – ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

Popular wisdom may have hesitated to stage two high-profile fundraising events on the same day in such a smal
l community. Many factors contributed to the combined success of both fundraisers on Saturday, September 27th. Corporate, media and business sponsorships were crucial for publicizing the events. The promotions of Grants Pass Bearfest 2003 and The Rogue Duck Derby were sophisticated and multi-level. In fact, they were practically flawless.

The overwhelming support by Rogue Valley residents is a gratifying testament to the generosity and humble spirit of this Southern Oregon community. Their latest efforts to fund non-profit and charitable organizations should serve as a model for other communities, small and otherwise.

-- DeWayne Lumpkin, Freelance Writer

Look for an upcoming article about "A Conversation with Al Devine" of Evergreen Federal Bank.

Back to the Ideas Page






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