Eclectic collection

It’s not every day that you can bid on a framed invitation to JFK’s inauguration — especially not at the same auction where you can land your very own wrestling combo, including a shiny championship wrestling belt and former pro wrestler Nikita Koloff’s Breaking the Chains: A Handbook for Christian Living.

But those were among the multifarious offerings at the Night of the Legends celebrity auction, held recently to benefit the Eblen Foundation, which provides assistance to local children, individuals and families living with illnesses or disabilities.

About 1,000 people packed a banquet hall at The Great Smokies Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort April 27 for a chance to support the foundation and bid on dozens of donated treasures.

A pair of bright red boxing gloves signed by a certain boxing legend caught Frank Lewis‘ eye.

“He signed it Cassius Clay and Ali,” murmured Lewis, who serves on the Eblen Foundation’s Children’s Pharmacy board.

The gloves and other items to be auctioned, arrayed on tables placed around the banquet hall, had been located by a committee of the Eblen Foundation, Lewis said, and Muhammad Ali’s foundation has been willing to help each year.

Other sports-star offerings included baseballs autographed by Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Javier Lopez and Nolan Ryan.

But athletic paraphernalia didn’t hold appeal for all comers.

“Oh, that’s wrestling,” exclaimed one woman examining a shiny metal belt. “I don’t want anything to do with that.”

But there were plenty of items for non-sports fans, including a “cat package,” featuring everything for the life (and post-life) of a feline, including a scratching post, feather toy, litter box and pet-funeral certificate. Caped crusader fans could compete for original Superman comic-book art by Jackson Guice, including a panel in which a bald-headed man tells the superhero: “All of humanity is suffering tonight, Superman.” And Dean Martin devotees were able to bid on a 10-video set of his celebrity roasts, not to mention a five-liter flask of “Sunrise Merlot,” which came with its own table.

A silent auction offered a host of other items displayed outside the banquet room, including Diva Dolls — three Spice Girls and a Britney Spears — NASCAR luggage with a Richard Petty hat, and three hours of bartending services.

Pepsi memorabilia collector Steve Sharpe of Leicester said he was able to accomplish two goals at once by attending the auction: Helping out a good cause and looking for items emblazoned with the Pepsi logo to add to his cache of signs, bottles and other collectibles.

“My wife says I have a sickness,” Sharpe added with a laugh.

The hoopla surrounding the auction didn’t dim its purpose of supporting local families, which was eloquently stated by foundation chairman Brian Moore.

“Quite simply, we want to make sure if a family needs help, they get help,” Moore told the crowd. “Our vision is that we never turn anyone away.”

Tammy Bryson, whose 4-year-old daughter, Jessica, has cystic fibrosis, also brought home the point. When insurance won’t cover all of Jessica’s expensive bills, the Eblen Foundation can assist in bridging the gap, Bryson told the audience.

“It’s good to know, if things are difficult, Eblen is there to help out,” she said. “Thank you.”

Last year, the foundation helped 9,000 families, said Bill Murdock, the foundation’s executive director. The nonprofit was launched in 1991 by Joe Eblen, owner of Biltmore Oil Co.

The auction raised $70,000 for the foundation — the most the foundation has raised at such an event, Murdock said. The foundation also netted a $20,000 check, presented by Ingles that evening, to launch a new children’s dental program, he said.

On a smaller level, attendees at the auction were no less generous. In fact, the first item auctioned was a $20 bill — which went for $65.

“Well, that’s a bargain, isn’t it?” joked auctioneer Carrie Hunter of radio station WKSF.

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