Written by Art Petrosemolo
I have said many times since I started my Garden Spot weekly blog that I truly believe that I have been led since I arrived here. I believe in coincidence but not at the rate that I have found myself in situations since January.
When I started writing for the Lititz Record and Ephrata Review I suddenly began making contacts with very interesting people who turned out to be perfect for great feature stories. I sat down first with Scott Miller here, a Lititz resident, and he gave me (still does) several tips and they led to stories. And those people mentioned something that led me to another and another and another.
Let me give you an example of how I get where I get. Way back last February, I wanted to do a story about the Manheim Auto Auction. I had heard about it and who wouldn’t want to go and see the operation? I was held off until May by their PR department until they hosted the World Automobile Auctioneer Championship.
I went to photograph and met Lititz resident and auction contestant John Stauffer. John was cordial and helpful and answered all my questions and I had a lot. The photos from the day were part of the Record’s coverage of the event but I had not had enough of auctions.
I pitched my editor to do a story on auctions in Lancaster County and the auctioneering profession. I suspected that there was something to this as you can’t drive five miles here without seeing more than one sign advertising an upcoming auction. It seemed many were family businesses with grandfathers, fathers and sons all practicing auctioneers, selling everything from livestock to real estate to farm equipment.
I got the go ahead as I usually do, but it took me a few months to clear the calendar to start the research. Naturally, I went back to John Stauffer and learned about how he got started at a young age in his father’s business.
I learned how most auctioneers do a two-year apprenticeship before taking the state licensing exam. I found out that programs at Harrisburg Area Community College and Reading Area Community College exist for those, usually outside the auctioneering family, to learn the business. These are one semester programs that take greenhorns and teach them an auctioneer’s chant and expose them to the business side of the business.
OK Art. Where are you going here and what about the angel lady? You’re halfway through the blog.
Anyway, in doing the auction house research I find myself at Horst Auctions in Ephrata on a Wednesday afternoon photographing Tim Horst, his brother and sons, all auctioneers. I sit down next to a woman with a big basket of candy that she is distributing to many of the people sitting, waiting for the bidding to begin. We talk and I learn she is Billie Stitt and has been coming to the Wednesday afternoon event for more than 20 years and has brought candy treats to friends for most of it.
But, she tells me, and my eyes widen, she bids on, buys and collects angels and she has a collection at home that at last count was more than 3000. As any newspaper person would be, I was intrigued. I received permission to visit and when I did, I was amazed. She wasn’t kidding. Billie’s home—from front porch door to back bedroom and every room (including bathroom) in between—was filled with small, medium and large angels of every shape, color and substance.
The angels filled bookcases, display cases, coffee tables, window sills and most every other available space. I asked about dusting and she just smiled when she told me that they flap their wings when she’s not looking and the dust disappears. How could I not believe her?
Billie’s collection is so well known that if an angel or a group of angels comes up for bid at Horst, her friends will ask if she is bidding and, if so, will not bid against her. She has become a little picky lately as every angel she buys now means she also has to find space for it.
Most of her buys are such she gets change for a $10 bill but recently she purchased a $100 crystal angel and isn’t sorry she did. She told me that I was leaving with an angel in a tone of voice that said don’t even try to say no. I asked Billie to pick out the angel for me and she did – a rather ornate, colorful eight-inch figurine. It would not have been the one I picked, but Billie saw something in it that said it should go home with me. For that reason I’ll treasure it even more.
Oh yes, she became a profile story in the Lititz Record. How could she not?