First Presbyterian Rummage Sale Builds Into One Of The Nation's Biggest

Lake Forest Church Hosts 61st Annual Saturday.

What began as a modest rummage sale held in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest on May 6, 1950 has become one of the largest rummage sales in the country.

On Saturday (May 21), the church will hold its 61st annual Rummage Sale from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it promises to be the most successful to date.

How It All Started

In 1949 after the YWCA hosted its last yearly rummage sale on the second floor of the Marshall Fields’ building in Market Square, the women who were members of both the association and the church decided that they wanted to continue the annual sale and use the proceeds for mission. They moved the location to the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest.

The first rummage and bake sale that took place at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest was chaired by Mrs. Melvin Lacke, it grossed $3,092.76 and allowed the church to purchase sewing machines and audio-visual equipment, and they made a donation to the Chicago Presbyterial Society for mission.

“The rummage room used to have dirt floors, and John Anderson used to come in the morning and stoke the furnace so the ladies could come,” said Gean Lutz, a long time member of the church and a two time Chair of the rummage sale.

Today, that same room has concrete floors and it’s where they sell all of the large furniture items.

As the years went by, the annual sale continued to grow. Men began volunteering to help set up the sale and to take shifts walking the floors to aid in security and to answer questions. Women stopped picking up items at people’s homes and donations began being accepted all year long.

Rummage Workers Create Their Own Fun

The increasing popularity of the sale also instituted social activities among rummage workers.

In 1955, a Pep Rally and Coffee was organized as a way to attract workers to gather and listen to the final instructions before the sale. That year volunteers brought a white elephant to add to the sale; in 1956, workers were asked to bring something to add to the Treasure Trove, the room where more valuable merchandise is sold.

Ten years later, in 1966, the Rummage Committee decided to add a little drama to the sometimes mundane task of sorting and setting up for the sale with a Rummage Review called Funny Girl. The women had so much fun staging and presenting the Review on the church auditorium stage that the next year they invited their husbands, so they could see for themselves what the women had been doing all of those hours spent at the church.

As the years passed, the Pep Rally and Coffee and the Rummage Review waned as other social events meant to create excitement for the rummage sale were created.

On April 23, 1982 the Supper Club and the Rummage Committee of Presbyterian Women joined forces and hosted the first Auction Party. Guests bid on rummage items in a silent auction, and vacation and party packages, donated by individual church members, were sold in a live auction. The event became so popular that it was eventually moved to the Knollwood Club in Lake Bluff and is now called the All Church Auction and Dinner. The proceeds help the Deacon’s Fund provide assistance to Lake County charitable organizations.

One of the last fellowship socials designed to promote the rummage sale was the Rummage Prom, which began in 1990. The Prom was held after the rummage sale and guests were asked to wear clothing that they purchased from the sale. Although the event was a great deal of fun, it only lasted a few years.

The scope of the rummage sale eventually demanded the full attention of the Rummage Committee, and there was little time or energy to spend on extracurricular events, such as the Prom or Auction. The extra time given to the social activities was eventually transferred solely to the sale itself, and more committee members were added to keep up with the scale of donations and planning.

Bigger Sale Meant More Volunteers

Throughout the first three decades of the rummage sale, one woman chaired the event. By 1988, four women chaired the sale. This year there are six chairs, two in charge of volunteers, two in charge of food, and two in charge of operations. Additional individual department chairs report to them.

“We have 80 chairs,” said Chairperson Dawn Neal.

There are also approximately 600 volunteers who help sort, set up, sell, and clean up. Most of the volunteers are church members, but many non-members from Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, and surrounding communities roll up their sleeves and pitch in.

Over the decades, the sale grew so large that the church had to begin accepting rummage items throughout the year so that they could sort and categorize it all.  In 1988, they began renting trailers in Libertyville to store the donations in.

“This year we have so much more merchandise than in the past. We’re not sure why except that the sale was three weeks later than last year because Easter fell late, and the Lake Forest resale shop closed so we got a lot of donations that they would have gotten,” said Operations Committee Chair Liz Bradner, who has been working on the rummage sale for 30 years.

Sorting the massive amount of donations is a year-long job. Twice a week for 45 weeks during the year, a dozen or more volunteers sort, categorize, and pack jewelry, clothing, books, household goods, and furniture, and miscellaneous items.

The weeks leading up to the sale also require a great number of volunteers.  Trucks deliver all of the rummage, the boxes are taken to the appropriate sale rooms, they are unpacked, and the merchandise is set up on tables and shelves. And, every category of merchandise has its own room. There is a music room, clothing room, furniture room, jewelry room, household room; you name it, they’ve got it.

There is a book room that is organized by genre and title, thanks to the help of the people who volunteer for the Lake Forest Book Sale in September. “So they know what they’re doing,” said Bradner.

How Do We Get a Car in Here

Lutz recalled some of the more interesting donations that the church had received through the years, a few of which wouldn’t fit through the church doors.

“Someone donated a Volkswagen, and another person donated a sailboat. We even had a Bally pinball machine,” said Lutz.

The tremendous growth in the rummage donations has not only made it mandatory to have an army of volunteers, it’s also increased the expenses required to move and set up the merchandise.

“They hire heavy lifting people and have an equipment truck where they store rummage equipment such as book shelves and tables, which stays in Libertyville. We also rent 250 tables from a rental company,” said Bradner.

Decades of dedication, organization, increased donations, and lots of physical labor has made the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest Rummage Sale one of the top three rummage sales in the country.

Breaking the $100,00 Mark

When Lutz chaired the sale in 1984 and again in 1986, it was the first time the church raised more than $100,000, and the numbers continue to rise.

“Recently we have brought in $170,000 gross, but expenses bring the number down to about $113,000,” said Bradner.

Considering that this year the church had a record breaking number of donations, it looks like the Rummage Committee may be reporting their largest sale number to date. The title of the largest rummage sale in the country may come to Lake Forest.

Donations for next year’s rummage sale will begin June 6.


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