BROOKSVILLE — Hoots, hollers and even a standing ovation punctuated a youth livestock auction that was like no other in recent memory at the Hernando County Fair on Saturday.
It wasn't a champion that rocked the arena, but rather a pig whose proceeds were donated to the family of 4-year-old Kiersten Sikes of Brooksville, who is battling cancer.
Larry VanFossen, owner of Vans Cars and Trucks of Brooksville, entered the final bid of $32 a pound for the 275-pound porker, which had been raised and shown by members of the Brooksville Senior FFA.
FFA chapter president and livestock chairman Wes Byer had readily agreed to the sale donation just a week earlier, at the suggestion of teacher and adviser Rick Ahrens. Bidders reacted not just to Kiersten's plight but to the generosity of the students.
VanFossen nodded relentlessly and stone-faced through the marathon bidding, which he didn't enter until most of the lesser bidders had dropped out. In fact, he said he had never bid at the annual sale.
First-time livestock sale auctioneer Joe Bertucci of Ballpark Auctions in Brooksville opened the bidding at $2, upping it steadily by dimes through $5, and then began "working the crowd," in the words of county extension 4-H agent Nancy Moores.
Bertucci flung verbal urges bidder to bidder.
He barked to a contender at $5: "I think he's almost done."
Seconds later, seeking $6: "Make it an even number."
Then: "He's giving you the evil eye. You're giving up."
At $7: "C'mon, you guys can handle this."
As Bertucci barked increments through $7 to $8, the crowd erupted with rolling decibels of approval. The price was unheard of for a nonchampion at the fair.
Kiersten's father, Zane Sikes, livestock co-chairman at the fair and the ringman at the auction, carried his daughter into the ring at $9, precipitating a renewed fervor of bidding that rose dollar by dollar. Heads in the crowd swiveled.
In the end, VanFossen commented to the friend at his side, Jim Tremmel: "I never worked so hard to give money away."
When asked by a reporter why he decided to pay $8,800 for the Hampshire cross named Coney Island, VanFossen said, "I wanted to. I think it's a needy cause."
VanFossen's next comment elicited the standing ovation. After his purchase, he donated the hog back for resale. His final bidding contender on the initial sale, Remington Outpost of Spring Lake, made the last purchase at $4 a pound.
Many agreed with VanFossen about their feelings for young Kiersten and her family.
Brooksville Senior FFA member Jacob Whelan, in his first year of showing a market hog, donated to Kiersten all of the profit from his 300-pounder that sold for $2.50 a pound. Said Whelan, 15: "She needs it more than I do."
Jake Fugate and Nichalos Lollie, both 4-H members, gave 10 percent of the proceeds paid for their porkers.
"Even at (fair) checkout time, there were kids coming up and saying they'll donate to that girl, said livestock co-chairwoman Tammy Fincher. "That's not something you see of kids these days, a very giving group, a very supportive group at the fair. I'm very, very proud of the kids, and I told them that."
Coney Island Drive Inn in Brooksville donated $200 to Kiersten's medical fund. Others, including the Rotary Club of Brooksville, contributed as well.
Another sale hog garnered community largesse when Sinclaire Peeler of Brooksville ushered to the sale ring her 260-pound hog with the help of 4-H Club leader Ed Tafelski. The 11-year-old, who has a form of autism, was the first developmentally challenged member to raise the club pig of All Creatures Great and Small. Members agreed to allow Sinclaire to keep the proceeds rather than return the money to the club's coffers.
The Peeler family announced they would give the money to the national organization Autism Speaks. Goodwin Construction of Brooksville bid a top $4.50 a pound. The company donated the pig back for resale, and Harold's Auto Center of Spring Hill bought it for $2.30 a pound.
Overall, the auction of 61 swine, 38 steers, 13 pens of meat rabbits and 11 pens of meat poultry brought in $147,873.
Kirsten Walker's grand champion market hog, at 275 pounds, garnered $5.20 a pound. The grand champion steer, a 1,350-pounder raised by Colton Ward, sold for $4 a pound. Madison Cavalier sold her champion pen of rabbits for $235. A bid of $150 bought the champion pen of poultry raised by Marissa Fincher.
Average prices included $3.12 a pound for hogs, $2.35 a pound for steers, $174 per pen of rabbits and $120 per pen of poultry.
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Brooksville Rotary Club donated $1,000 to the youth livestock auction at the Hernando County Fair, with the money distributed among all 4-H Club and FFA members who raised and exhibited livestock. The recipient of the money was incorrect in a story published Wednesday.