photo courtesy of Grayham family Whitney Grayham and her 7-month-old nephew Titus are pictured here at a June 22 benefit auction held in her honor.

Photo by Amy Ingalsbe The local band ThunderShine donated an hour of live entertainment to the Whitney Grayham Benefit Auction, held June 22, at the Bakersfield School gym.

photo courtesy of Grayham family Tina Grayham, left, and daughter Whitney are pictured here in 2022. Tina died Jan. 16 from complications with cancer. A few weeks later, Whitney was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Both are well-known and well-loved members of the Bakersfield community.

There may not be any better example of just how special it is to live in a small town than a benefit auction held in honor of a beloved community member. And that small town neighborly spirit was on full display June 22 at Bakersfield School as friends, family and neighbors gathered for the Whitney Grayham Benefit Auction. 

Whitney was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in March, at only 29 years old. Facing months of chemotherapy, surgeries and possible radiation, the road ahead of her is a long one. Her diagnosis was especially hard, given that she lost her mom, Tina Grayham, earlier this year from cancer.


Finding a way to show support

Amy Ingalsbe, a member of the small army who worked to put on the event, said organizing the auction was very personal to her, as Whitney’s mother Tina was her best friend. It was only a few short weeks after Tina’s death, with eyes and hearts still raw from the loss, that Whitney was diagnosed.  

“I was not alone in desperately wanting to do something to show Whitney and the family our love and support...” Ingalsbe said in a heartfelt Facebook about the event.

Amy, along with community members Stephanie Guffey, Jessica Bean, Trudy Summers, Angie Morris, Tabitha Belt, Shelby Ellison, Zoey Hambelton, Alivia Bean, Mariah Grayham and Jean Guffey, brainstormed ways to help. They decided that a benefit auction could help raise funds that would make Whitney’s journey a little easier, helping to ease the financial burden of any out-of-pocket medical expenses and other costs that this type of disease can bring. 

“When we first approached the family with the idea, we were met with much resistance. This is not a family who is destitute. Their position has always been that there are people out there with greater needs than theirs,” Amy wrote. “While this is true, we knew there was a large community of people who love them and wanted to show them some love during difficult times.”

The Grayham family has been known to find ways to give to those in need in the community. “In fact, they’ve done so at other auction, even since this diagnosis,” Amy said.

Knowing the strong-will and big hearts behind the auction plans, the family agreed to allow their friends and loved ones to host the event in a way to show their support for Whitney.


Donations and volunteers

Given the green light, the group began making plans. They started asking for donations and spreading the word about the event, pouring the love they hold for both Tina and Whitney into the work they were doing. 

And it wasn’t just the organizers who wanted to help, the business owners and managers they approached about donations were very generous and thankful to be a part of such an effort. 

“They encompassed every area community you can think of. We had numerous businesses in and around West Plains, Caulfield, Moody, Dora, Gainesville, Bakersfield, Mountain Home and even Salem, Arkansas,” Amy said. 

And the breadth of donations was expansive, with businesses giving unique specialized services and items. 

Some donated labor and/or supplies to do things like tear off a roof, put in a new well pump, put up fencing, pressure wash surfaces, detail cars and more.

Other donations came in the form of useful items: coolers full of farm-fresh beef, round bales of hay, loads of gravel and propane. To top it off, some of Ozark County’s best bakers threw in more than a few beautiful and delicious pies, cakes and other goodies. 

Kristen McKee of Arrow M Mercantile donated her time making t-shirts for the group to sell, an effort that brought in $2,000 on its own. 


A huge turnout

The crew also worked to get the word out as much as they could, but with summertime being an exceptionally busy time for families in the area, they were unsure what kind of attendance to expect. 

But they didn’t need to worry. When the clock struck 5 that night, the bleachers were packed from floor to ceiling with those who also wanted to show Whitney and the rest of the Grayham family their support.

Tables of donated items spanned the gym, and Billy Sexton and Gene Summers began the bidding. 

The first item up was a homemade coconut cream pie, made by Malisha Summers. The auctioneer chant began, and bidding cards popped up around the gym. After a well-fought bidding war, the winner secured the pie with a whopping $1,350 bid. 

“That’s when I knew this was going to be beyond anything I’d imagined,” Amy said. 

That first pie set the tone for the rest of the auction, and attendees showed their support until the very last item was spoken for.

Malisha’s coconut cream pie was followed by lots of other cakes and pies that brought in several hundred dollars each.

The well pump service sold for $3,250, a handmade church pew made from barn wood brought $1,800. A gun brought in $1,450, and several quilts that were donated each brought in around $1,000. 

The concession stand, which served pulled pork sandwiches and nachos on a donation basis, raised $1,800. Another $9,500 was given in cash donations by businesses and individuals. 

After it was all tallied up, that community-fueled night, held in the tiny town of just 184 residents, raised an amazing $76,000 for their neighbor and friend. 

“I went into the night knowing there was a special spirit about this whole endeavor. Anytime you have a group of faith-filled, praying people working to bless each other, it sure is special,” Amy said. 

The funds will help pay for the first two years of Whitney’s out-of-pocket medical expenses, and will allow her some extra freedom to choose how to best support herself in the coming months ahead. 

“Whatever she decides to do, she will be doing it knowing that love has made it possible,” Amy said.


Another benefit

Among the many helping hands offering to help make the event a success were those of Alex Smith, the mother of 1-year-old Kooper Smith of Bakersfield, who died May 23 this year after complications from a sudden and unexpected illness. 

In the same full-circle fashion that the Grayhams experienced, being helped by the same community they’ve helped to support, Alex and her husband Harley (a 2016 BHS grad) will be the honored guests at an upcoming benefit that will be held July 20. 

That event will include BBQ lunch plates for sale by donation, served at noon, followed by a live benefit auction at 1 p.m. at Bakersfield School. Everyone is invited to attend. 

Those who would like to donate items or services can contact Michelle Farmer at 417-293-9670 or drop items off at Great Scrubs & More in West Plains. 

And with that benefit, the Smiths, like the Grayhams and so many before them, will be added to the continuing tapestry of small-town support that’s been stitched on those blue gym bleachers by a thread that grows stronger with every bidding card raised.

Ozark County Times

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