When Jeannine Wolff attended the very first Crowder College Festival of Wreaths 10 years ago, no one was auctioning off a Ford Mustang.

When Jeannine Wolff attended the very first Crowder College Festival of Wreaths 10 years ago, no one was auctioning off a Ford Mustang. Or a cabin. Or cows. Or an all-inclusive week's vacation in Cancun. Or a 3D smart TV. Or a chamber choir. A chamber choir? Yes. A chamber choir.

But she saw it happen Tuesday, at the scholarship fundraiser's 10th annual event, held in the Longwell Museum, in the Elsie E. Plaster Community Center, at Crowder.

The silent and live auction raised $64,000 toward scholarships for deserving Crowder students. Last year's total was $58,000. The scholarships are administered through the Crowder Foundation.

Wolff, who lives in rural Anderson, has attended the Festival of Wreaths every year since its beginning a decade ago. That first event featured only wreaths and didn't include a silent auction, she remembered. It didn't raise a fraction of what Tuesday night saw, she said.

"I love this!" Wolff said, in between bidding on silent auction items with a provided iPod. "Look at how this has grown! It is just unbelievable. This is my favorite thing. I look so forward to this. How can you lose when you're supporting Crowder and also getting gifts for somebody? This auction is just wonderful."

Though the heart of the event is still the live wreath auction, where ornamental Christmas greenery decorated by area businesses is sold at a premium to the highest bidder, it has expanded to include considerably more. Tuesday was the biggest Festival of Wreaths yet, say organizers, with more than 430 donated items for the silent and live auctions, compared to 300 last year.

Regarding a few of the big-ticket items, the Ford Mustang was a 2007 model that was fixed up by Crowder students and which ultimately auctioned off for $8,000. The roughly 15 x 20 foot cabin was also constructed by Crowder students, though the winning bidder is responsible for moving it.

"This is the first time we've had anything this big, so we'll see how it goes," said event organizer Samantha Evans prior to the live auction. "We didn't have anything this big last year. So it's kind of a big year. But we think we have a few big buyers lined up, so we hope that will go over well and have some competition."

Auctioning off the Crowder Chamber Choir was also a new thing this year. The choir, which sang Christmas-themed songs at Tuesday's event, "sold" for $275, and will now perform at a holiday function of the high bidder's choice between Dec. 1 and Dec. 22.

Besides the other items previously mentioned, also on the silent and live auction blocks were two all-paid ski resort trips, a Kindle Fire, iPads, a smoker/grill, collectible pedal cars, children's toys, an outdoor swing set and play equipment, mountain bikes, framed concert posters, and lots, lots, lots more.

It all added up to $64,000 in scholarship money. Also, this year Crowder will match that amount dollar for dollar with a Title 3 grant.

One of the students benefiting from those scholarship funds is Jenna Diehl, a sophomore at Crowder. Diehl is studying general agriculture, with plans to later get into animal medicine, as well as a life goal of becoming a farm accountant.
Diehl received $300 this semester and will receive the same next semester, which will pay for most of her textbooks. She also belongs to the Missouri A+ Program, which covers her tuition.

"I'm really happy!" Diehl said Tuesday. "To go to college for free is pretty awesome, because there are all the other expenses of living on your own while going to college. So this really helps out."

Diehl was one of many scholarship recipients who served in various volunteer capacities at Tuesday's event.

This year's silent auction also utilized BidPal, an electronic bidding system, for the first time. Participants could bid on items with either their smartphone, or on an Apple iPod touch, which was loaned out on site, with plenty of volunteers standing by to provide instruction. The service was intended to cut down on checkout wait time, and was also supposed to increase bids by 46 percent, according to Evans. Since people could pay directly from their smartphones or iPods, she said it eliminated the previously heard frustration of people having to wait in line an hour or more to pay for their items afterward.

Among other features, the electronic service notified bidders when they had been out-bid on an item. Several attendees said Tuesday that the digital system was a lot simpler to use than they had thought it might be, and demonstrated how easy it was to navigate.

Wolff, at age 72, was one of them.

"I'm learning" she said. "It has to be better than before. In previous years, you would have so many items you would be bidding on, and when the auction would flow you just couldn't be with all the items you wanted, and so you would be out-bid. Then I wouldn't end up with the things that I wanted. So, hey, I'm going to learn this. It's wonderful. It does work."

Meanwhile, Evans had earlier said she was expecting about 500 people that evening, a number that was likely reached or exceeded, judging from the elbow-to-elbow crowd, which filled every seat and still left the back of the room packed with standing attendees.

"All of these people spend more money than what the items are really valued at because they know it is going to scholarship students," Evans said. "And we pride ourselves on making sure that money goes directly toward that."