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Welcome to the sale of the summer
by Marcia Worth Baker
Better known as the Turnover Sale, Morrow Memorial Methodist Church's month-long rummage sale, held each Tuesday evening and Thursday morning in July, is a family legacy for many of its volunteer workers. Sale organizer Mary Auth, a Maplewood native, remembers her parents working at the Sale. Fellow organizer Joyce Stibitz has given her summers to the sale since 1967. "I plan my vacation around it" she admits. "The volunteers range in age from 18 to 80-plus years old" says Auth, "and this is the seventieth year of the sale."
Morrow Church's Depression baby, the "Rummage Sale" as it was then known, began in 1933. As much as church members needed the used clothing that was sold, the church needed funds. Bridge parties and fashion shows, popular fundraisers of the period, couldn't be held in the church. The Ladies Aid Society of the church sponsored and staffed the first sale in a Maplewood storefront.
Its popularity guaranteed che sale's survival and it quickly outgrew the storefront. The sale moved into rooms of the church. In 1942, the date of the earliest remalnlnq records of the sale, the notes taken by Harrie R. Watson attest that the "Rummage Sale" was formallv renamed the "Turnover Sale" to better describe how goods are turned over from one owner to another. The ladies' organization of the church, then called "The Women's Society of Christian Service," earned $474.00 that year. Two years later, the Turnover boasted 22 volunteer helpers, a profit of $871.31, and 26 bags of surplus goods donated to Goodwill.
It wasn't until the postwar boom of the 1950's that the sale's profits broke the $I000 mark. Then, as now, the proceeds were directed to mission activities and unsold wares were donated to local charities. The difference between then and now, though, is in the numbers: 2002's proceeds totaled $57,000, the number of volunteers reached 250, and the surplus goods call only be measured in truckloads. And the number of customers who come to the Turnover! Auth explains that "we buy 5000 index cards, which are given out at the door to each shopper or group of shoppers. Often we need to buy more cards before the end of the month"
As the sale has grown so has the range of its wares. Besides clothing for all ages - including a ladies' boutique - shoppers can find furniture, jewelry toys, musical instruments, sporting goods. "The list is endless" says Stibitz. "We've literally sold the kitchen sink - and some bathroom sinks, too." She and Auth agree that the popularity of Antiques Roadshow has made for a more knowledgeable customer. That knowledge is rewarded: fabulous finds of the past few years include Gustav Stickley furniture, a Wallace Nutting footstool, the original Santa chair from Macy's in New York and even a Roseville vase. Starry-eyed shoppers also find celebrities in their midst; last year, the television and movie actor Andre Braugher came to the sale, as did playwright, producer, and former Maplewood mayor's son, Bob Grasmere.
More often, though, shoppers find items they delight in personally. Kathie Reilly Morrow, South Orange resident and faithful Turnover shopper, bought "a hand painted little pitcher that I use for the kids' milk in the morning. I like to think that someone gave this charming thing to the sale so that it would go on to have another life with a new family." Kristen Tyler, a sale veteran from South Orange, says, "I go every Thursday. My neighbor also goes and we share stories. I like it all!"
Many shoppers share stories of their annual finds with the sale volunteers. Auth tells the story of, "a small, but lovely, lamp with porcelain figures on it. During one busy sale a young girl saw the lamp and said to her mother that it was just like the one they had at home. The mother, not sure it was an exact match, reluctantly paid the fairly high price and took it home. When the woman brought the lamp home, her husband revealed that his parents were given a matched pair of these lamps as a wedding present in Germany in 1926. His mother broke one of the lamps decades earlier, and she was distraught because it had been given to her by a favorite. cousin. A continent away, and 75 years later, the set was again complete: the lamp was an exact match.
Auth credits three components with the Turnover's success and longevity: those who shop, those who volunteer, and those who donate. Organizing the volunteers and donors begins months before the July sale dates. The United Methodist Women, the modern-day women's organization chat sponsors the sale, holds an annual Fall Fashion Show, members model outfits - outrageous evening wear, bridal fashions of many decades - bought at the Turnover. Throughout the year, Auth fields phone calls from donors and compiles lists of volunteers. "Most people work in the same section year after year" she explains. "Our volunteers become experts in what they sell and become friends with their fellow helpers"
Behind the scenes, other helpers - both church members and nonmembers - physically set up and take down the racks and tables that hold the wares. Others prepare snacks for workers on break, pick up donations, and post signs around town to advertise sale dates. The 2002 sale brought a new type of volunteer into the fold, what Auth describes as "an E-bayer" who posted selected sale items online. The 2002 Turnover boasted a volunteer, Katie Gamble, who is the third generation of the Noble family to participate.
Donors and their donations come from everywhere, which is reflected in the serendipity of the sale. Morrow says of her sale experiences, "1 don't know the donors' desires, but the place has the feeling of a wonderful attic filled with treasures to be passed through a community.
The heroine of English novelist Barbara Pym's Excellent Women surveys the rummage sale at which she volunteers and muses, "People united through jumble sales. I wonder if the Methodists are having one too!" Indeed they are, at Merrow Church in Maplewood, for the seventieth year in a row.
Marcia Worth-Baker can be found in the children's room of the sale. This is her sixth summer volunteering at the Turnover.