By Mike Conway
It hit me during the Memphis conference when I was taking a group picture of the graduate students with their AJHA coffee mugs and Sweeney Stipend checks. I was witnessing the result of one final selfless act from one of AJHA’s most selfless members.
Backing up a year, AJHA President Aimee Edmondson asked me to chair an ad-hoc committee to come up with ideas to bolster our commitment to graduate students. Many of us got hooked on AJHA as graduate students and we wanted to make sure the organization is doing all it can to encourage media history research for those working on their degrees.
Gerry Lanosga, Michael Fuhlhage, Graduate Student Committee Chair Claire Rounkles and I got to work. We were later joined by Jason Guthrie and Erin Coyle. One of the most popular ideas was bringing back the AJHA Auction, a long-time staple of the annual conferences that ended several years ago.
None of us were involved in the auction logistics so I reached out to Ford Risley, who ran the auction for several years, and Mike Sweeney, who was the unforgettable auctioneer that cajoled us into bidding on items to help fund graduate student conference travel. With their feedback, we decided to try the hybrid version of the auction that you witnessed in Memphis. The bidding was done on an online site but the actual auction items were on display at the conference. More on the auction in a bit. Back to the selfless act.
As we worked on various graduate student initiatives, Aimee Edmondson learned that her colleague, Sweeney, who had been living with cancer for years, did not have long to live. We decided that it would be appropriate to name our graduate student travel stipend after Dr. Sweeney, because of his role as mentor to so many graduate students as well as his memorable years at AJHA auctioneer. Carolyn and Mike Sweeney not only gave the idea their blessing in his final days, they also added the AJHA graduate student fund to Mike’s obituary.
Our committee also convinced the AJHA Board to make a statement about our commitment by offering graduate students $400 in travel funds for the Memphis conference, more than double what had ever been offered in the past. Leave it to Mike Sweeney. The money raised from his obituary notice covered the Sweeney Stipend for all graduate students in Memphis, ensuring AJHA would not have to dip into the general fund to cover the cost.
That is where the reborn auction comes in. We set up the Sweeney Stipend so the money raised in one year would be used for the next year’s conference, allowing us to let graduate students know exactly how much we could offer in advance. The Sweeney Stipend in Columbus next year depends on how much we raise this year.
Because of the generous donations of historical media items from so many AJHA members as well as the healthy bidding on those items, along with the hours spent by the ad-hoc committee putting together and running the auction, we were able to raise $1700 for next year’s Sweeney Stipend. This amount alone translates to about $115 per graduate student next year which will be added to any other donations we receive to the Sweeney Stipend by the end of the year. (Donations are always welcome at https://ajha.wildapricot.org/Donate !)
All of the above leads to the question in the headline. Should we continue the auction in Columbus in 2023? If so, we need volunteers to keep the auction going. Our ad-hoc committee was a one-year commitment and the members are all moving on to other obligations. I am certainly ready to help and pass along what we learned this year, but we need one AJHA volunteer who would be willing to take over the auction, and maybe a few others to help. Most of the work happens in the summer and through the conference itself. If you would be interested or have ideas about the auction, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org.