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Santa Clarita’s Charity Auctioneer Mark Drilling

| Community, News | March 26, 2020

If you’ve ever attended a live auction in the Santa Clarita Valley, chances are you know Mark Drilling.

Maybe you don’t know him by name, but you certainly know him by voice.

Let’s have some fun. A two-night stay, airfare for two and dinner for two. Alright, here we go. I’ve got a $500 bid, six now seven. Eight hundred dollar bid, now nine. I’ve got nine hundred, gotta bid one thousand. Eleven, gotta bid twelve. I got 13, gotta bid 14. Sold!

Drilling, as the above paragraph indicates, is an auctioneer. Although based in San Diego, he comes up here several times a year to help entertain and raise funds for such organizations as the Boys & Girls Club, Carousel Ranch, SCV Senior Center and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer.

“I’m fortunate to be part of your events,” Drilling said while driving between his home and John Wayne Airport. “They’re very nice people, very philanthropic, and they’ve become my friends.”

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In Santa Clarita, Drilling is known as a fundraising auctioneer, meaning he attends galas and other big fundraisers and attempts to sell not only the items to be auctioned but also the emotional satisfaction of donating to a worthy cause, which he calls “the special appeal.” He said he’s always conscious that giving is optional, so he wants to ensure he knows more than just the auctioned item and its opening bid.

“I go out of my way to understand and learn about the organization I’m serving, and when I sell, I can incorporate what I learned and help people understand,” he said. “I’m selling values. I’m selling something to a volunteer or to a board member, or to a member whose child might have diabetes. I have a fondness for organizations that benefit children, that benefit the environment and that benefit animals.”

But Drilling does other types of auctions, too. As many as six days a week, he travels the country auctioning off automobiles in such places as Denver and Las Vegas, although it remains to be seen how the current coronavirus crisis affects his work. So far, he reports numerous fundraising-auction cancellations but little drop-off with commercial auctions because they’ve gone online. Instead of standing in a big Las Vegas casino ballroom or Denver warehouse in front of hundreds of people, Drilling now stands in an empty room with computers linking the bidders.

“Nevada closed all non-essential business for 30 days. Apparently, the auto auction is an essential business,” he said. “I was in (John Wayne) airport at a bar. I was the only person at the bar. Normally, I can’t get in. I looked at the bartender: ‘How’s it going?’ He said, “You’re my first customer.’ It was 2 p.m. … Empty airports are terrifying.”

Although he has been an auctioneer for about half his life, Drilling, 52, never set out to do it, although he said he was impressed as a youngster watching auctioneers with their unbuttoned shirts, gold chains, greasy skin and cowboy clothing speaking really fast as they auctioned the items. In fact, he attended San Diego State and later graduated Boise State with the intention of becoming a teacher. But he got a job at an auto auction company in Seattle in 1997 whose general manager asked if he would run auctions.

His first job was as ringman, a junior auctioneer who assists by working the floor and helping identify bidders. A boss told him that he had a good personality, so maybe he would like to try fundraising auctions. But if he was truly serious, he should go back to school.

There are auction colleges. Drilling attended the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Mont. There, he learned the various types of auctioneering (including land, livestock, art, real estate, government and consignment in addition to commercial and fundraising), laws and licensing, bid calling (“You learn tongue twisters,” he said) and voice care.

The problem with auctioneering is that once someone gets a position, he or she doesn’t leave. “It’s like becoming the fire chief of a small town: There’s one of you. You get the job after someone else dies,” he said.

It took him five years before he really felt like he made it. Among the odd items he’s sold: a piece of live performance art, liposuction, braces for a child’s teeth, dinner with Robin Williams (winning bid: $60,000) and dinner at Disneyland (winning bid: $80,000).

He also met Muhammad Ali but couldn’t think of anything to say except “I love you, Champ.” And at one Humane Society auction, a Great Dane urinated on a Maltese in the front row, causing the owner to scream and Drilling to have to work hard to keep from laughing.

The reason he came to Santa Clarita was the lucky meeting of Myrna Condie and auctioneer Mark Schenfeld at a Utah auction. Condie and her husband, Gary, were well known local philanthropists who each won Santa Clarita Valley Man/Woman of the Year, Gary in 2005 and Myrna in 2012. Condie invited Schenfeld to work the Boys & Girls Club’s annual Festival of Trees event in November 2003. Schenfeld did for a few years, but when his schedule didn’t allow it, Drilling took the gig.

“He’s very clever. He’s quite active and very professional,” Condie said of Drilling, “and he’s very effective. He’ll bring in more money than you could bring in on your own.”

Drilling has been coming here ever since, and one job led to another, first Carousel Ranch and then the Hoefflin Foundation.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever had where I get paid to be me,” he said.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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