Each spring, local ranchers, farmers and other community members flock to Hotchkiss High School seeking strong backs and minds to provide a full day's work at the Hotchkiss FFA Labor Auction and Oyster Fry.
On Wednesday, March 27, following an all-you-can-eat dinner of Rocky Mountain oysters (also known as prairie oysters) and chicken tenders, auctioneer John Cunningham volunteered his time and talent, quickly auctioning off 25 pair of FFA members, each committing a full day's work for the winning bidder.
"It went fantastically," said FFA advisor Coley Wondra. The amount of community support we have is above and beyond. The local business people, the farmers and ranchers, they come out in droves to support us."
This year's event raised just under $10,000, said Wondra. The chapters, largest event and fundraiser, proceeds from the dinner and auction support chapter travel costs, leadership and scholarship opportunities. In its early years the event was held in the school commons. Three years ago it grew so big -- as many as 400 would attend -- that it was moved to the gymnasium.
Also auctioned off were three guided fishing trips on Blue Mesa. Wondra also challenges his Advanced Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources students to design and build items in the school shop to be sold at auction.
Jace Peebles and Ethan Guy made a large bench swing and a wooden bench from 2X4, 4X4 and 6-inch wooden plank; Teagan Sommer and Amber Mattler cut, welded and painted a metal evergreen tree; and Malykai Klaseen and Shay Glaser crafted a wooden shelf/coat rack.
The auction comes just as farmers and ranchers -- who make up the brunt of the bidders -- enter their busy season, and they're very busy even in winter.
The family of Kathy Welt made the final winning bid, a record-high $1,200, for the group of eight chapter officers. Wondra said that in the past they had six officers. "It works out to be a bargain for whoever buys them," said Wondra. "It's a good team and they're all hard workers."
The officers will perform ranch duties, yard work and spring cleaning at Welt Ranch near Hotchkiss. The Welts' three sons all benefited from FFA and 4-H, said Kathy Welt, whose ranch regularly makes the winning bid for the officers. "We've been supporting FFA for a long, long time. I'm really a believer in FFA."