BID WITH YOUR HEART
In Owatonna Jeff Kath’s name was synonymous with auctions. As an auctioneer for over 35 years, Kath drew local residents to each event with his entertaining approach to the art. It is a skill only few can master, and one which requires both personality and passion.
Kath passed away earlier this year, and his friends and family knew they had to do something to honor his name and keep his legacy alive. That’s when the idea for the Jeff Kath Memorial Mai Fest first came about.
The memorial benefit was held on Saturday, May 19 at the Retrofit Building in Owatonna and offered live music, a silent and live auction, and German themed food and beverages.
“It’s about celebrating our German heritage and the idea of gathering together to honor him,” Kath’s son Korey explained. During the night’s auction, Kory helped to announce some of the larger or more unique items while his father’s old partner, Larry Born, did his best to replicate the skill of his late friend.
There were 105 items for the silent auction and 10 for the live auction, but Kory took an old trick he learned from his father and added an extra item or two.
“Jeff always had a surprise item, and here someone just dropped off fresh asparagus,” Kory announced to the audience of bidders in the humorous style of his father. “It’s fresh and its ready, and I’m not sure what its worth, but I’m thinking around $1,500.”
The asparagus sold for $125. It was just one of several unique items available, including a cabin stay up north, Twins tickets, a BBQ party for up to 20, and a handmade table with “Jeffisms” printed on it.
Kath’s sister, Rhonda Michaletz, explained that “Jeffisms” are some of the famous sayings her brother was known for. These include: “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton,” “you can’t hold what you don’t have in your hand,” and, “bid with your heart, not with your head.”
Those in attendance were definitely ready to bid with their hearts in memory of the man who inspired them to do so on many occasions. “When he was selling for a benefit there was nothing to stop him,” Tammy Lewison, Kath’s cousin recalled.
Another cousin, Bill Schendel, remembers a time when Kath was auctioneering in St. Michael, Minn., and had managed to sell an old wooden duck decoy for $750 before convincing the winning bidder to donate it back. Kath then turned around and sold the decoy to another bidder for $750.
It was stories like this that united all those in attendance. “My dad always wanted people to have fun, and if it was for a purpose than it was even more fun,” Kory said.
“He was just a fun person, a people person, and he always knew everyone by name,” Allyson Yennie, Kath’s daughter explained. She was grateful for all that the community had contributed to the event. “It’s amazing how giving Owatonna is, and that is why my dad loved Owatonna,” she said. Many in town were eager to show their support of their good friend.
For instance, when he heard about the event, Born was ready to help anyway he could and brought his staff in tow. Another old friend was there to DJ the post-auction celebrations.
According to Kory, Jeff and DJ Chopper had first met while competing against each other in softball tournaments years ago, and from there decided to join forces at many events. It was friends like DJ Chopper and Born who were pivotal in helping to put on the memorial.
Joel Dulas, one of Born’s fellow auctioneers, remembered Kath as a man who could sell anything to anybody. Dulas has been auctioneering for almost 20 years, and said he learned much from Kath’s approach.
“I learned a lot from him, and he was always entertaining the audience,” Dulas said. “It was always fun to do an auction with Jeff,” he said. Dulas helped during the live auction by pointing out bidders and assisting Born in calling.
Many still wished they could have seen the master in action. “If he could see this he would be very humbled, but I think if he was putting this on he would be selling and hooping the place up,” his sister Karlene Just mused.
Despite the celebratory mood, they were all there to pay respect to a man who did so much for the community. “It’s fun to see all of these people,” Jeff’s sister Rhonda explained. “But it’s bittersweet. There’s a lot of tears.”
With the goal being 400 tickets, the benefit surpassed that early in the evening, having sold over 700 before the auction was even half over. It was just another testament to the power Kath’s name still elicits in people’s hearts, and minds.