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2012 News Releases

Longwood student auctioneers in 3 languages

November 13, 2012

Ben Clark
Ben Clark

Not many college students are licensed auctioneers. Fewer still have auctioneered not only in English but also Spanish and Pennsylvania Dutch-sometimes in all three languages at the same time. One who has is Longwood University senior Ben Clark.

"I love auctioneering, which comes naturally to me-it's like being a fish in water," said Clark, who wants to be a full-time professional auctioneer. "I used to be afraid to talk, but now I love to talk. I have a short attention span-language, real estate and auctioneering are about the only things that can keep my attention."

Clark of Farmville, also a licensed real estate agent, knows a few people who can auctioneer in Spanish, and some who can auctioneer in Pennsylvania Dutch-but nobody who can do so in both languages. He graduated from the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering in High Point, N.C., in August 2009; is a licensed auctioneer in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana; and has done benefit sales "all over the place" in Virginia as well as in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Auctioneering is an art form-you're a combination artist and performer," he said. "They're not just people who talk fast."

Most of his auctioneering work has been benefits for nonprofit organizations. He has been offered money but hasn't accepted any.

What does it take to be a good auctioneer? "You can't be afraid of crowds, and, if you are, you have to hide it. You have to be a people person, and you have to know what you're saying-you have to know your numbers when you're 'calling bids,' as it's known, and you have to be accurate. You don't have to speak fast-that's a myth about auctioneers-but you want to move items quickly. You find a pace and a volume your crowd likes, and you stick to it."

The different kinds of auctioneers all sound different from each other, Clark said. Different speeds are expected. Livestock, auto and tobacco auctioneers (the last group is almost extinct) are expected to be fast.

Clark's "most embarrassing" moment auctioneering occurred in Dover, Del., when the product-expensive handcrafted baskets called Longaberger baskets- was something with which he was unfamiliar. "It was raining and muddy and the loudspeaker blew up, so I was wet and cranky. I had never heard of these baskets. I started the bids at $5, and a lady came up to me and said, 'Sweetheart, you need to start higher than $5 or you're going to be here all day.'"

Clark's gift for auctioneering and speaking multiple languages is surprising considering that he had a speech impediment as a boy. In addition to Spanish and Pennsylvania Dutch, he has studied Russian and Arabic, of which he has a "glancing knowledge." His accent betrays his Appalachian background, of which he is proud and about which he often jokes. Regardless of the language, he is rarely at a loss for words.

"Some teachers told me I should learn English better before I learned a foreign language," he said with a smile.

Clark learned Pennsylvania Dutch by spending a lot of time, while he was growing up, with the Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities, including the large Amish community in Charlotte Court House and Halifax County. He first got into auctioneering through a friend in Pennsylvania who is ex-Old Order Mennonite and an auctioneer.

Clark has a grade-point average of about 3.8 despite double-majoring in political science (global politics concentration) and Spanish and minoring in international studies, homeland security and German. He was selected to the prestigious Sorensen Institute College Leaders Program at the University of Virginia in summer 2011, and he participated that fall in Longwood's study-abroad program in Valencia, Spain. He is a career educator with the Academic and Career Advising Center.