With Easter around the corner and a billowy winter behind, more than 500 people gathered in the Finney County Exhibition Building to enjoy a respite from the weather and support an institution that has been a staple to Garden City for 100 years.

The Garden City Community College Endowment Association, already gearing up for the college’s centennial celebration this September, held its 41st annual scholarship auction Friday to raise money for academic and technical scholarships for current and incoming GCCC students. This year’s theme, made evident by apron-clad staff members, marshmallow topped s’mores brownies and a giant ant crawling on the back wall, was "Backyard Barbeque."

“It’s a great turnout … There’s a direct correlation between the money that comes from the endowment auction that goes toward student scholarships. So, we definitely appreciate the community support of that … ” said GCCC President Ryan Ruda.

Besides the longtime auctioneer Kent Scott rattling off items in the live auction at breakneck speeds in the center of the room, there were several avenues attendees could direct their attention and funds.

A drawing at the end of the night would name the new owner of a bright orange Camaro and half of ticket sales on a 50/50 raffle would ultimately go to the association. On the edge of the room, guests weaved heads down around silent auction tables filled with anything from local business donations to funky Easter baskets to work from local artists. Some of the larger items, including furniture, a signed University of Kansas basketball and a custom-made concession stand, stood among the live-auction items.

The pool of items for both auctions was intentionally smaller this year, Gigot said. In prior years, there were sometimes more items than bidders, and from a fundraising standpoint it was less efficient, he said. Instead of last year’s more than 350 silent auction items and 80 in the live auction, there are 203 contenders in the silent auction and 67 in the live one, he said.

The majority of the items were donated by local businesses, including from Tranquility Salon & Spa. Therri Wadel, owner of the spa and Jax Sports Grille, said she donates items to the auction every year because it supports the community. A couple of employees at Tranquility have graduated from the GCCC Cosmetology program and she’s eager to give back to the program, she said.

“It’s good to see when (local students graduate) that they’re going to come back and be productive in our community, so when we give back to that and help them get their education … then they come back into the community and they work and keep everything moving,” Wadel said.

Every year, the association aims to raise about $150,000 in order to donate $100,000 to $110,000 toward its general fund, which helps recruit successful students with presidential ambassador and dean scholarships and fund $1,000 mini-grants for college instructors and programs, among other things, said Endowment Association director Jeremy Gigot.

Last year, the association administered more than $500,000 in scholarships and $105,000 in equipment and materials grants, including six $10,000 grants to certain programs.

“One thing about Garden City is … we’re not a big city … but the people in this community are shockingly generous. That’s what makes Garden City such a great place to live is that people support their community here,” Gigot said.

The association’s efforts to support scholarships spilled into the live auction this year, Gigot said. An item near the end of the night asked bidders to donate to the endowment fund for a new criminal justice scholarship in honor of Robert Kunzie, a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy and GCCC alumnus who died in the line of duty last year. Being able to support the scholarship and the man it was named after, as well as support students willing to go to school to protect others, is important to Gigot, he said.

And he was not alone in his intention to support the college and its students. Some, like Maria Deleon and Sam and Angie Magana, are parents of students or alumni and saw the college’s impact on their kids. Alumni Sasha Morales and Boomer Pauda said they benefited from scholarships at GCCC, which helped them pursue their nursing degrees. Giving back after that felt good, Pauda said.

“I think the more you put into the community and the more you put into the college … it just makes a better community. And I think it’s good for the kids and I think it’s good for Garden City to keep building on that,” Sam Magana said.


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.