Hall of Fame Auctioneer
“It’s been a very, very interesting business. I’m 87 years old, and I’m just lucky.” said Don Bourk who was recently inducted into South Dakota Auctioneers Hall of Fame.
Bourk, who has been selling cattle at South Dakota’s Ft. Pierre Livestock for around 40 years, said, “I started in the ‘60s and it’s been a very, very interesting business. That was about the time they started the auctioneering contest. I heard guys I liked, and I wanted to try it.”
The lifelong auctioneer said he was honored by the Hall of Fame induction at the convention in Chamberlain, South Dakota. “It was very nice, made me feel very proud,” he said.
He was attracted to the auctioneer’s patter and the magical excitement of auction sales at South Dakota’s first Auctioneer Convention at Ft. Pierre in 1963, where he saw items auctioned from the back door of Fischer Brothers’ Western Store. By the next convention in Rapid City, he was hooked. He’d already finished auctioneering school by then.
Don’s daughter Vona says she believes auctioneering grabbed him because “he is such a people person, and it gave him the opportunity to use his various talents and be around the livestock.” Vona said her Dad savored the variety of auctions and the opportunity to “combine his people skills with his knowledge of livestock to serve others.”
Don’s first sale was for Slim Unken in Highmore. He eventually worked barns in Benkelman, Nebraska; Miller, Highmore, Gettysburg, and Presho, South Dakota, and “probably a few others I can’t name right off,” he said.
“The Hansons started working with me at Ft. Pierre and it became an occupation I’ve really enjoyed; something I kind of wanted to be involved in my whole life. Working with all the people bidding on the cattle, and just getting to know the people that were involved has made it an interesting life.”
Vona says her Dad and Willie Cowan “are lifelong friends. They told many stories at the South Dakota Auctioneer’s convention when Dad got his honor, and Dawn Luckett said she could’ve listened all night,” said Vona.
Auctioneers are ever in demand for benefit work, and Don’s been generous. “He did 4-H rodeos, went to every single Achievement Day, announced and did auctions for them, and was given an award locally for all those services – for always being available,” Vona remembers
Bourk’s talents can be seen outside of the sale ring. He auctioneers for local farm sales as well.
Live bidding is “the fairest way to ensure that the seller gets market value; and the best way for the buyer to know what they are buying. The key is to bring enough people together that a true market value is reached,” he said. Vona added, “Some things cannot be improved by technology. The community created at an auction sale is hard to beat, it’s as much a social event as anything.”
Erin, Don’s wife and partner in work, fulfills the joy of his chosen occupation, and he suggested she could tell his story better than he! Both attended school at Blunt, SD, so Erin says they were ‘classmates’. Giggling, she adds, “But, I’m enough younger that he was out of school before I started!” She’s enjoyed life as an auctioneers’ wife, and thought it was “Pretty cool!” when Don received the Hall of Fame honor.
“We’ve done it together,” Erin says. “One of the highlights of our life was the World Livestock Auctioneer Contest in Calgary! We sure had a nice trip, and were treated royally there, let me tell you! We’ve made some good friends through the Auctioneers Conventions.” The Bourks have attended many, but for Erin that one years ago in Calgary is the standout.
The Bourks share both hard work and good times as a family. “We threw his kids and my kids together – I have 2 stepdaughters and one stepson. We get together and have a marvelous time! We’ve always gone together. I’ve clerked our auctions for 30 years,” Erin explains. “We had a van that we worked out of; I put a desk in there and some chairs and it worked like a dream. Even though it got pretty hectic at times it’s still been wonderful. At times his daughters were involved with the work as well. In fact, younger daughter, Robin Carlson, started working her Dad’s auctions when she was 14. She’s clerked off and on through the years and has been a key part of the team for the last decade or so. She’s worked some long hours in all kinds of weather, but it’s all just part of the job.
Robin remembers, “We we pretty young when Dad started his auction service, and Mom worked side by side with Dad at most if not all of the auctions in those early years. As auctioneer’s kids, we helped out by carrying sheets and running errands when needed. In the early years the folks loaned us the money to start a concession stand to provide refreshments for the customers. We repaid our loan and eventually generated a little money from that endeavor. We actually went a lot when he worked at the sale barn here in Ft.Pierre; hangin’ out, playing and seeing our friends.” Robin is the only one of Don’s children who is still very much involved in the lifestyle. She and her husband, Larry, raise and breed livestock and still enjoy going to the sale barn.
Don also loves to go to the state fair and especially enjoys attending the auctioneer competition on Sunday afternoon. His favorite part is seeing if he can figure out who will win the contest each year. “He took us kids most every year when we were younger,” says daughter, Robin “but the highlight was the year he coaxed me into getting the autograph of the pretty young entertainer in the cafe that day. He said, ‘she’s going to be famous someday.’ He was right. I sure wish I still had that stuffed dog with Reba McIntire’s autograph on it!”
Weather or not, sale barn or barnyard, Hall of Famer Don Bourk is auctioneer to the core, savoring the challenges and variety each pen of cattle entering the ring – or few steps across a sale site— bring him. “Doing the same thing over and over again, as one would do in many careers, likely would have killed him a long time ago,” says Vona. As for auctioneering, Don and wife Erin agree, “Yes, it has been wonderful!”