What We Would Have Missed

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Thoughts about the Rummage Sale
From the Winter 2010 Caller

By Debbie Ehrman Kaye '73

We almost didn’t have it!

In 1945 a rummage sale did not appeal to some members of the Catlin-Hillside Mother’s Club. They wondered if they couldn’t just write a check to buy library books and cover other expenses for the school (Rummage would support financial aid exclusively after 1950), never imagining that their efforts would yield $8,864. Thankfully, with their huge success, they were hooked!
Think what we would have missed:
* 5 years of positive connection with the greater Portland community
* 8 million in financial aid (2009 value), enabling thousands of students to attend Catlin-Hillside and Catlin Gabel
* All that recycling of usable goods
* Extracurricular, experiential learning by thousands of students
* Community participation in an “all-for-one & one-for-all” experience yielding friendships and connections among the diverse elements of our school
* So much FUN! and all those stories about merchandise, customers, trucks, buildings, and each other—shared experiences building community.
Because my parents were involved with Rummage, so was I (and my siblings). My volunteering began when I was four—my job: separating hangers. By the time I was 10 in the mid-sixties, I got to help in women’s accessories, stapling 2 x 2-inch price tags onto hats, gloves, handkerchiefs, and scarves. Kelly Puziss allowed me to price them; hankies generally cost 5 cents. Althea Williams in women’s sportswear taught her daughters (Leslie ’73 and Terra ’76) and me how to distinguish women’s from men’s shirts and how to display merchandise. Soon after, the Treasures ladies (Mrs. Hammer and Mrs. Wise) invited me to work with them and even to sell and cashier. I learned the value and power of taking responsibility and doing what I said I would do. These generous people taught me life skills I use to this day, such as leadership and “followership,” organization, interpersonal and intergenerational relations, finding the fun, and how to listen to, respect, and have compassion for colleagues and customers. Many parents and teachers taught all of us that together we could move a lot of rummage, and that the sum of our individual work was huge. I later worked as a buyer and floor manager for a Brazilian department store in Santiago, Chile, using every one of these skills! Recently, it has been a great pleasure to engage with students at Rummage, encouraging them to find their niche, to identify and enhance their skills. That kind of experiential learning must be integral to what we do next as a community.
During Rummage season, our family—and our mother, Pat Ehrman, particularly—were at the sorting centers and then the Journal Building all the time. With early November birthdays, my brother and sister did not have timely parties so, as compensation, their special days were announced over the loudspeaker. We were among those legions of children over the years who would see a toy and say, “I have one just like that!” and have their mother reply, “Not anymore, dear.” One year Mom was so busy at Rummage she forgot about Halloween—she called Dad at dinner time and told him to send us out in the oldest white sheets!
The Rummage Sale involved students from the beginning. The contest always brought in a lot of rummage, often treasures. Students found many opportunities for cooperative learning and for fun. Team leadership offered additional skill building (Go Blue!).
We almost didn’t have it. Recently, with 1,000 volunteers working 12,000 hours serving 11,000 customers every sale, consider how many people have participated in our annual community gathering—a wonderful and immensely beneficial event for 65 years. So “thank you” to those courageous and generous women who chose to have a rummage sale. Without them, think what we would have missed!
Debbie Ehrman Kaye ’73 is a member of the alumni board and the wife and mother of alumni (Ted ’73, Mason ’04, and Rob ’07). She served for many years as Rummage volunteer coordinator.