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CENTERBURG — Susan Toothman sat through the pie auction with a calm, focused expression. Every now and again, she’d lift her right arm toward the stage, white card in hand, to signal a bid.
But when the auctioneer began rattling off prices for her aunt Phyllis’ cherry crumb pie, everything changed. Toothman started off slow, topping every offer with a subtle nod to the auctioneer. As buyer by buyer reached their maximum bid, Toothman began to laugh. The winning bid would have to be pie in the sky high, but it didn’t matter. After one of the biggest back-and-forth bidding wars of the night, Toothman had her cherry pie. All it cost her was $975.
The pie auction is the annual fundraiser for the Centerburg Old Farm Festival, so it’s not uncommon for locals to shell out hundreds of dollars for a homemade treat. For Toothman, this pie meant even more. Baked by her aunt Phyllis Fuller, it was dedicated in memory of Toothman’s cousin Jennie Borton, who passed away in August.
“We don’t care (how much it costs), it’s in honor of Jennie,” said Toothman.
Borton’s son, Jared, took the microphone to auction off the cherry crumb.
“I won’t say much because I gotta sell this pie, but I’m sure Mom would want to be here with us tonight,” he said before kicking off the bidding.
Two other pies were dedicated to Borton, one made by Twila Rogers and another by the Centerburg Garden Club, where she served as president. Borton had often donated pies to the auction.
“She loved doing that so it was the perfect tribute,” said Lori Dierker.
Twenty-five pies were donated to the auction, as well as three batches of cookies from the children’s cookie contest.
Natalie Reimer earned first place in the 8th through 12th grade division for her orange cream cookies. Reimer is the great granddaughter of John Eley, once Centerburg’s master craftsman. Her family returns to Centerburg every year for the festival.
“We keep that legacy going,” said Darla Reimer, Natalie’s mother.
Bailey Vanderpool won first place in the 5th through 7th grade category with her pumpkin cookies. Natalie Wingert took home a blue ribbon in the 1st through 4th grade division for her loaded cookie bars.
“They were nice and moist, and chewy,” said Cathy Goeppinger, one of the contest judges and a former home economics teacher at Centerburg High School.
Wingert entered the contest alongside her older sister, Gabi. Both girls baked the cookies with their grandmother, drawing on beloved family recipes.
“We do it every year,” said Natalie.
“It’s fun to spend time with grandma,” added Gabi, who entered thumbprint lemon cookies.
According to Goeppinger, there were about 15 entries in the youth cookie baking contest.
“It’s so nice to see so many kids entering,” she said. “It’s for kids-only and I think that’s awesome because the kids are our future.”
Just moments after the auctioneer Steve Jagger called out “sold,” Wingert handed the cookies off and they fell through the bottom of the box, landing with a splat on the stage.
As Wingert and a festival worker kneeled to scoop up the cookies, Jagger teased the buyer.
“I know you’ve been to an auction before, once we say it’s sold, it’s yours,” he said. “Will you please come here and clean up your cookies?”
Jagger kept the audience chuckling throughout the auction, coaxing bidders higher and higher as the night went on.
TJ Thorpe’s $3,100 was the highest bid of the night. The apple pie came along with a massive eagle wood carving.
“It’s neat. They put a lot of thought into it,” he said. “And it’s a good thing to support the festival.”
The combined total from the pie and cookie sales totaled more than $24,800. The proceeds will go towards festival operations.