Auctioneer Still Going Strong After Four Decades Of Country Ham Sales

By Maureen Kyle

(LOUISVILLE, August 26th, 2004, 3:30 p.m.) -- Over a thousand people lined up for country ham, eggs and grits at the Kentucky State Fair Thursday morning. People came in from all over the Commonwealth to eat and watch the annual auction of the fair's championship ham. WAVE 3's Maureen Kyle was there, and had a chance to talk to the man who has been behind every sale for the past 41 years.

In the 41 years the Annual Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast and Auction has been around, a lot has changed: the names of the politicians shaking hands at the door, the size of the audience, the menu -- but most of all the price of the ham has changed.

The one constant over the years has been the man behind the podium, Kentucky Farm Bureau Auctioneer Jack Crowner, who still recalls the first year the auction was held. "We sold the ham that year for $8 a pound."

Even though Crowner has accepted the winning bid for the ham for 41 years straight, he isn't planning on quitting -- at least not anytime soon. "I enjoy doing it and I got a goal. I would like to do it for 50 years."

In four decades, Crowner has seen the breakfast crowd grow from a party of 60 people into a gathering of thousands. "We have people who left home this morning heading in from Calloway County at 2:30, and they drove all the way to Louisville to have a breakfast."

And he saw the bid on the country ham jump dramatically five years ago, when the winning bid was $118,000. "I thought, well we've died and gone to heaven."

This year's $60,000 winning bid was a far cry from a year ago, when Brown Forman paid a record $250,000 for a grand ham from Finchville Farms of Shelby County.

That night, Crowner got a call from the British Broadcasting Company. He says they couldn't believe what someone paid for a piece of meat.

"They said, 'are you sure it was $250,000?' I said, 'that's right, I was the auctioneer.' And so we talked for about eight or 10 minutes on the worldwide service of the BBC. So they get a lot of publicity."

All proceeds from the auction go to charity. This year's winning bid was submitted by Bernard Tragor, chairman and founder of Republic Bank and Trust. Tragor says the money will be donated to the University of Louisville for athletic and academic programs.

Online Reporter: Maureen Kyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever