Baked goods are a hot item at the annual Vale FFA Auction, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12. (The Enterprise/file)

VALE – The place to be Saturday morning is the Vale school bus barn, and bring your checkbook.

It’s time, of course, for the big auction to boost the scholarship fund for Vale FFA.

The group behind the foundation has raised thousands and thousands over the years through this auction. Money goes to push along the education of local students.

But this is so much more than a charity event.

This is a social gathering. Folks pull in from all over the region, many spending more time yakking with each other than bidding. The “Hi! How are you?” refrains come as fast as “Sold!”

This is a chance to meet some of the local FFA students. They look you in the eye, they’ll shake your hand, and thank you for being there.

And this is, of course, a marketplace. The tables will be lined with items you just have to have. Goods, produce and gift certificates make for quite a plaza.

Make no mistake. This is not the place to come bargain hunting. This isn’t a flea market to take pride in how low you can drive the price.

No, this is a place to back local kids who are determined to do better for themselves. They count on those scholarships. Anyone who’s written a tuition check in recent years knows the load ahead for Vale seniors.

The way I look at these sorts of auctions is this. You’re really there to support the cause. So bid as generously as you can, considering whatever item you “win” to be the “thank you.” So, you should not be expecting bargain basement prices on a sack of onions or an oil change.

All of us should be thankful that so many businesses throughout the territory donate to the auction. Without those donations, there would be no auction.

And Sam Baker and his crew from Baker Auction keep matters moving along with a steady patter that’s worth the price of admission. Watching good auctioneers at work is a show by itself.

FFA is one of those great organizations in Malheur County. Those students who get involved always are impressive with their determination, their demeanor, and their own service to the community. And they aren’t looking for handouts. They want to earn what they get, whether it’s through steer sales or the annual greenhouse operation at Vale High School.

At the Enterprise, we’ve had FFA crews help out on tasks and I’m never happier to write a check.

As the auction approached, I got curious about FFA history and tracked down minutes from the first national conference. That was held in 1928 in a hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. Eighteen states were represented, including Oregon. The annual dues for a state that year: $5. The state sent two delegates about whom I couldn’t find much: Wilber Signer and Neal Thompson.

Over the years, Oregon has provided the national president five times: Kenneth Pettibone (1931), Daniel Dunham (1955), Adin Hester (1958), Jeff Hanlon (1968) and Harry Birdwell (1969). Hester went on to become president of California’s Olive Growers Council and Birdwell once was Oklahoma State University’s athletic director.

Malheur County’s FFA has contributed leaders at the state level too. Most recently, Adrian’s Sundee Speelmon served as state reporter. (I discovered that a colleague, Nicholas Kristof, also served as a state reporter in Oregon FFA. He grew up on a farm outside Yamhill and now is a columnist for the New York Times.)

As I’ve become acquainted with FFA members over the years, I’ve wondered how society would benefit if even more students participated. The expectations of those members and their contributions to the local community serve us all well.

For now, Saturday’s event is a great way to help out Vale FFA. And some of us will be paying particular attention to Gert Delong’s cinnamon rolls and the pies that usually line a table.

So, clear your calendar Saturday and come on down to the bus barn. Let’s make this a record year for Vale FFA.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise. Email: les@malheurenterprise.com.