After 48 years of running rummage sales and bazaars in Rochester, Sister Lauren Weinandt has raised more $1 million to help Mayo Clinic patients.
She has sold lamps, homemade jellies, stuffed animals, Sister Generose's pickles and much more. In fact, it's said to be careful what you set down at her sales. Jackets laid down at her rummage sales are rumored to have been sold before the owners could return for them.
On Thursday, she was bustling around the tables laden with donated goods of all kinds preparing for today's sale in the Domitilla building in St. Marys Hospital. Sister Lauren has run events like this multiple times a year since 1968, but this one is different.
This is Sister Lauren's final sale.
"It's been a good outlet for me. It allowed me to do missionary work here in Rochester," she said standing with a walker that uses mainly to carry paperwork. "I'll miss it, but I'll still be around"
She says her sales wouldn't have been possible without the help of many "wonderful," hard-working volunteers. One in particular, Bertilla "Bert" Mullenbach has been with her from the first one in 1968. The 102-year-old Mullenbach is expected to also be at the final one.
It all started with a radio conversation with Guatemala. As an amateur radio operator, she helped a man from Guatemala get an appointment at Mayo Clinic. In return, the family invited her to visit them in Guatemala. The poverty and need she saw inspired her to go to Sister Mary Brigh to ask to raise money by holding a rummage sale.
Her first rummage sale was at St. John's Catholic School in 1968. The money raised at the sale coupled with donated medical equipment helped to outfit a rural hospital in Guatemala.
That first sale grew into two to three rummage sales. Then Sister Lauren pushed to add one crafts and food bazaar a year to the mix. It featured popular pickles made by Sister Generose Gervais and a variety of 150 pies at each sale.
As the sales became more well known, people started lining up before the doors opened at 8 a.m. Sister Lauren remembers at least one man who spent the night in a sleeping bag get first shot at the homemade goodies at the bazaar.
This final sale features a variety of antiques including, a steamer trunk, a small rocking chair, two Red Wing crocks and more. It also includes many old roller carts, air-conditioning window units and shelves from the hospital.
"This a highlight of my year. I always look forward to this," said Karlene Schulz, while getting an early peek at the tables on Thursday. "There are pieces of history here."
For the past 15 years, Schulz and her co-worker Jill Ryan have found all sorts of treasures, like dressers, apple dolls, Christmas decorations and more, at Sister Lauren's rummage sales.
"The fun is when your family asks where you got that and you can say that you got it from the sisters' sale," Ryan added.
In the heydays, the rummage sales brought in an average of $8,000 a year total and the bazaar accounted for about $2,000.
Money from the rummage sales started flowing into the Saint Marys development fund during the 1980s and later to the Poverello Fund. The fund, which is financed through multiple sources, expects to spend about $1 million to help patients pay for care at Saint Marys Hospital this year.
"I've had many patients come up to me and say, 'I never dreamed anyone would ever help us like this,' " Sister Lauren said.