When Michael Sullivan decided to raise money for Mayo Clinic by auctioning off a vintage John Deere tractor, he expected to raise between $25,000 and $30,000. Instead, he garnered nearly $500,000.
Sullivan, a 33 year-old Hamilton, Ill., resident, enlisted his family's auctioneering business to collect bidders for a 1972 John Deere tractor. The cause was personal: Sullivan credits Mayo Clinic for saving his life as he underwent treatment for a rare form of leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Dan Sullivan, Michael's father, quickly realized this auction would be unlike any they'd held in their 40 years of doing business. Before Dan — or one of his brothers — picked up the microphone on Aug. 22 to take the first bid on the tractor, the family had already raised $250,000 from donors.
Like usual, with the tractor on the block, the auctioneers rattled off prices in their typical cadence, and the John Deere sold to the highest bidder. Then came the twist: the winning bidder donated the tractor back to the Sullivans and committed to send the money to Mayo Clinic.
Stunned, the auctioneers restarted the process, bouncing back and forth to bidders as the tractor's price tag went higher.
A second bidder emerged victorious, offering up $100,000. However, but this person too returned the tractor to the family and donated the six-figure bid to Mayo Clinic.
Auctioneers were floored. But started a third round of bidding.
By the time the John Deere sold a third time, settling in with its final owners, the family had raised $406,000 for Mayo Clinic. That number has climbed near $500,000 as checks continue to come in.