Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Over 300 silent auction items, including a case of that Old Ballard vodka.

At Large in Ballard: Generosity

By Peggy Sturdivant

I volunteered to be a “runner” for the Ballard Senior Center Auction on March 30th because I thought it sounded cool. Big mistake, because I was too late to bid on silent auction items. Second mistake was being the one who “runs” the form to the winning bidder instead of a live auction bidder myself. At least at the end of the night I went home no poorer, just richer for having watched the community support Ballard Senior Center.

But let me tell you about the Aquavit.

Last December I wrote about the budget shortfall at Ballard Senior Center. In response the Niemeyers collected donations at their annual holiday party and presented them to the Senior Center just before Christmas. In January I heard from Lexi at Old Ballard Liquor Company; in turn she’d been inspired to supply the Senior Center with any hard liquor for their events because she could get it for them at cost. She also gave me a standing invitation to stop in and sample her products.

For those of you who read last week’s column, there was a continuation of that somewhat infamous day. However my spirits improved, along with my joy in punning, when I found my way to Old Ballard Liquor on a previously unvisited section of Shilshole Avenue Northwest, by the 14th Street boat ramp.

Given Lexi’s obvious affection for seniors I thought she’d be older. Instead I met one of those young people who know they belong with Ballard people of all ages, even when raised in the Skagit Valley to hippie parents. She wasn’t supposed to be open for business, which did not stop people from trying the door on a street I never even knew existed.

Andrea Torland, Vice-President of the Leif Erikson Lodge stopped in to discuss an upcoming tasting event and price the Aquavit for a gift basket the 17th of May Committee is donating for the Nordic Heritage Museum auction. In the meantime she was passing out postcards for the 17th of May Festival (and gave us each a pin and a Norwegian flag).

While edifying me on the difference between wine and beer, (fruit versus grains) Lexi then took me through what happens during distillation and then set me straight on gin versus Aquavit (juniper versus dill or caraway). In her space there are shelves of mysterious jars that will flavor her own Riktig Aquavit and other specialty liquors. She told me that in Scandinavia, Aquavit (from Latin meaning water of life) has seasonal flavors. Lexi is doing the same for the Northwest. Sweden might want to pair ham or lamb for Easter, Lexi is pairing for oysters, for crab, for salmon.

Feeling warmed by the presence of the Kentucky-made still and raspberries, watermelon, pumpkin pickling their way to vodka and more I asked Lexi what she wanted people to know about her business. She’s an entrepreneurial distiller who has trouble doing the same with her words. This finally made her pause. “That I’m a community business,” she said.

Three nights later I was looking at evidence of her community spirit on final bid amounts of multiple Old Ballard Liquor Company donations at the Ballard Senior Center auction. They had been popular. Late in the live auction there was another item from Lexi, after the Holland America Cruise but before the Seahawks tickets. It was a private Aquavit tasting party. I overheard someone at a table say, “It’s like gin.” I finally did some running.

“Not like gin,” I told a bidder. “It’s traditionally dill or caraway but Lexi is creating seasonal pairings.” Despite my intervention those bidders didn’t win the tasting party. But it was almost as popular as the parking spot for a year or the monthly baked goods from Century21 realtor Rutha Thomas (along with her many other donations).

Waiting in the front to squirm rather than run my way through chairs to procure a signature I stood in awe at effort to fund the center. Auctions are a huge amount of work. Sponsors and the community had been very generous; there were over 300 silent auction items and 30 in the live auction. Donors were often bidders, Board Members and on the Auction Committee. And it was often the same bidders over and over. Director Carlye Teel had been given bidding privileges by Board Members unable to attend, “I suddenly realized, I need to spend more money.”

Days later Teel is ecstatic over the auction results. “In my wildest dreams,” she told me afterwards, “I let myself hope for $60,000. It’s coming in at $70,000.”

“It’s the generosity of the community,” she said. “Look at all those donations from folks like Old Ballard Liquor Company.”

At the auction I was standing near the auctioneer watching the crowd of ordinary Ballard neighbors “Raise the Paddle” to maintain programs and the facility when Master of Ceremonies and Rotarian Cameron Smock announced that if folks once again raised their paddles at $100 he would match the first five. Those same paddles went up again so fast they blurred. And so did my vision as I blinked back sudden tears at generosity of the community.

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