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Published: Friday, 10/26/2001

'Reigning Frogs' gala raises $110,000 for charities

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A tempest stirred the frog pond last night at the “It's Reigning Frogs” gala auction, when a star-spangled fiberglass amphibian ran afoul of high-tech bidding methods.

More than 400 frog fans turned out at SeaGate Centre to help bid a summer-long infestation of statues off the streets.

About 250 people paid $75 apiece for the right to bid; the reserve price on each animal was $1,000.

Bidding was lively on the 33 “live auction” frogs; auctioneers got up to $6,800 for some creatures; they raised an estimated $110,000.

Another 27 were offered on a simultaneous electronic basis, so computer users could bid via the Internet.

That proved to be the fly in the evening's ointment.

Early this year, the Walbridge Park advisory board donated $2,800 to commission “Uncle Amphibian,” a red, white, and blue frog. It morphed into a collector's item in September when President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox autographed its top hat during a visit to Toledo.

Following procedures set up by sponsors from the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, CitiFest, and the mayor's office, the park board donated their critter for last night's auction.

Whatever money it raised would be split among CitiFest, the Arts Commission, and a charity chosen by the park board: the New York City Firefighters Relief Fund.

“Uncle Amphibian” and three other favored frogs were offered for sale on eBay, a popular online auction site, as a way to stir up national interest in the Toledo auction, coordinator Lissa Guyton said.

The eBay bidding closed at 10 a.m. yesterday - not 10 p.m., as “Reigning Frogs” coordinators expected. An anonymous Toledoan bought the frog for $5,600.

The live SeaGate auction started at 7 p.m., and continued until 10 p.m. The morning/evening glitch meant “Uncle Amphibian” and three other flashy frogs were removed from bidding before the live auction started.

Gabriel Barrow, chairman of the Walbridge Park board, learned of the glitch when he arrived at the gala - moments after John Fronk of the Whitehouse Inn told him he planned to bid up to $7,000 for the frog.

Mr. Barrow was livid about the glitch.

“I am so emotional about this. I'm ready to put a stake through someone's heart.... I signed nothing with eBay, and I think they should put ‘Uncle Amphibian' up here and let the bidding run,” Mr. Barrow said.

“It's the firefighters who are being ripped-off. If we have to, we'll withdraw the frog from the floor. And all I get from Lissa [Guyton] is ‘No way, sorry. It's sold.' That isn't good enough,” Mr. Barrow said.

Meantime, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner took the microphone to lament the frogs' passing, and promise the crowd “a frog sequel” next year.

Mr. Barrow recruited supporters for his cause. Tim Kuhlman, a lawyer, brought the issue and the little group to Arturo Quintero, Mayor Finkbeiner's executive officer, and Heather Rohrs, arts commission executive director.

A knot of gesturing people formed at the foot of stage right, even as the crowd cheered the spirited bidding.

Ms. Guyton disappeared, then reappeared with Toledo fire Chief Mike Bell.

“The frog is auctioned off. It's over,” Mr. Quintero shouted over the barking auctioneer.

“People want to bid on it and, before they get out of bed, ... it's over,” Mr. Barrow complained.

“We have to have the consent of the winning [eBay] bidder to put it back into the auction,” Ms. Rohrs said.

Armed only with an e-mail address, she scurried from the room, determined to contact the mysterious frog owner.

The group watched as some frogs went on to become corporate d cor. Others were consigned to the suburbs, for a future as lawn ornaments.

And moments later, Ms. Rohrs reappeared with news: The eBay bidder wanted to keep his frog, but he volunteered to make an extra, unspecified donation to the firefighter fund, in the name of the Walbridge Park board.

Mr. Barrow looked at his supporters, grinned, and shook Ms. Rohrs' hand. “I love you guys,” he cried.

Chief Bell smiled. Mr. Quintero giggled. Ms. Rohrs looked tired.

The auctioneer rattled on, raking in more green from the frogs.

“The community's been energized by this project,” burbled Ms. Guyton.

“The entire city's just crazy for frogs. It's been great - leaps and bounds beyond my expectations.”



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