Seattle's Dick and Sharon Friel, although having ambitious individual careers, are best known as successful charity auctioneers who together raised more than $300 million at some 2,600 charity and arts events in the Northwest. For nearly 35 years, the Friels developed a charity-auction industry in collaboration with members of PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic and Cultural Organizations) and other nonprofit groups. In the 1980s, they created and taught classes titled "125 Tips for a More Fun and Profitable Auction" in Seattle and throughout the U.S. and Australia. Dick Friel worked in advertising, regionally promoting the Bon Marche and reshaping the Pay 'N Pak image. He was marketing manager for Learjet distributor Jetair and led an award-winning ad campaign for Aviation Partners' fuel-saving blended winglets. Dick had a gift for comedy and was an excellent public speaker with great stage presence. Sharon Friel's work was equally impressive: She headed the Century 21 Seattle World's Fair press-relations department, worked as columnist Emmett Watson's assistant, was advertising manager for Alpine Hut, and served on the Seattle Children's Hospital board for 24 years. Recognized with numerous awards, Dick and Sharon Friel together were honored in 2001 with Children's Hospital's highest recognition, the Pennington Award. Following Dick's death in 2010, Sharon continued charity auctioneering through Friel and Company.
Dick Friel's Hardscrabble Beginnings
Richard Edward Friel was born in Philadelphia on October 16, 1933, to William and Bertha Martin Friel, who divorced shortly after his birth. Bertha struggled to make a living for herself and her son, moving to New Jersey for a time to be closer to her family and then to New York City, where she and Dick lived in an apartment at 109th and Broadway. At 8 years old, Dick began shining shoes to bring in extra money. Despite the economic struggle, Dick's jovial nature must have been apparent at an early age, as seen in a note that Bertha wrote in 1940 describing him as "a happy, wonderful little boy" (Album).
Around 1944, Bertha and Dick, Bertha's sister and her husband, two cousins, and the family dog crammed into one car and headed west, having heard that there were jobs to be had in Washington. They ended up in Kirkland and lived in a tent there for a year. Every day Bertha took the ferry across Lake Washington to Sand Point Naval Air Station, where she worked cleaning PBYs (World War II seaplanes). Eventually the family moved to Seattle's University District, and Dick helped earn money with two newspaper stands. He attended John Marshall Junior High and Roosevelt High. Albert Burnett, a New Jersey friend of Bertha's, came to Seattle and he and Bertha married. The family of three moved several times before settling down for good in Seattle.
Dick did not finish high school, but two events from this time-period changed his life. First, he made friends with the Albert Foster family, of the stock brokerage Foster & Marshall, who lived in a fine home in Northeast Seattle's Windermere neighborhood. This gave Dick a glimpse of the lifestyle he wanted. The second event was a trip to the post office to buy stamps. He saw recruiting posters there and joined the Marines that same day. Having learned swimming instruction from the Red Cross, Dick would serve as a lifeguard at the officer's club at Kaneohe in the Honolulu area and would later joke, "Hey, nobody drowned!" (Sharon Friel interview).
Military life gave him the discipline he needed, as well as a GED, and when he was discharged Dick returned to Seattle and began working in retail. He also attended Everett Community College, then transferred to the University of Washington to major in business and marketing. Early in life, Dick adopted as a motto -- one he followed all his life -- a popular adage attributed to William H. Johnsen: "If it is to be, it is up to me."
Sharon Lund's Early Years
Sharon Anne Lund was born at Seattle's Swedish Hospital on March 18, 1939, to Elsie Swanson Lund (1911-1999) and Swen Edward Lund (1910-2002), who were first-generation Americans. The family name originally was Bjorklund, and her grandparents on both sides were Swedish. The Lunds found a solid support system in Seattle's Swedish community.
Elsie Lund was a homemaker, although for a time she worked as a comptometer (an early mechanical calculator) operator for the Shell Oil Company. Swen was a manager for the Grinnell Company, a business that installed overhead sprinkler systems. He also played accordion and led an orchestra that performed 1930s and 1940s dance music and Scandinavian tunes. Around 1949, the Grinnell Company transferred him to Spokane. Swen, a talented carpenter, built a home there, and Sharon and her sister Carolee attended J. J. Browne Elementary School.
Growing up, Sharon sold Christmas cards door-to-door, babysat, clerked at a Crescent department store, and had summer jobs at two radio stations, KLYK and KHQ, the latter a Spokane affiliate of Seattle's KOMO. By the time she graduated from high school, she knew she wanted to be a journalist and in 1957 she began taking courses in communications at the University of Washington, where she joined the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.
When she was still a senior in college, a chance conversation on a flight between Spokane and Seattle landed her a job with Cappy Ricks Advertising, with offices at 2nd Avenue and Seneca Street in Seattle. Dick was at that time advertising manager for Allied Stores, which included all of the Bon Marches. Cappy Ricks brought Dick and Sharon together for the first time, in December 1961, and Dick joined the company the following year. But Cappy Ricks was a short stop for both; Dick soon formed the partnership of Skogland, Friel, Willey, and Ware with Denny Skogland, Bob Willey, and Darryl Ware, all young, cutting-edge, creative advertisers. Sharon went to work as an assistant in the press department for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, or Century 21, about six weeks before it opened, and she and Dick began dating.
The Century 21 World's Fair
After working two months as an assistant, Sharon was asked to head the fair's press-relations department, a seven-day-a-week job supervising eight press aides and handling some of the fair's press conferences -- an awesome undertaking for a 22-year-old. The fair brought Dick and Sharon into a working relationship again, since one of Skogland, Friel, Willey, and Ware's clients, Northwest Releasing, handled talent for Seattle theaters and night clubs. Sharon later recalled:
"Dick would call me and say, 'I have Johnny Mathis in town; can I have my press conference in your building?' And I also had another connection at the Space Needle, where there were three elevators and we would arrange to have the press people and celebrities go in the garbage elevator so they wouldn't have to stand in line ... . Dick handled Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis when they came. He picked me up at my press building and said, 'I almost died today!' … they were crossing the fairgrounds in a golf cart -- you couldn't do that today -- and people saw Elvis and almost tipped over the golf cart. Dick said it was terrifying, but then joked that the newspaper headline would read 'Handsome Ad Man Dies with Elvis'" (Sharon Friel interview).
Dick Friel and Sharon Lund married on December 6, 1963, and the couple moved into the Edgewater Park Apartments in Seattle. Despite different backgrounds, they had much in common. Both loved people, enjoyed creative, challenging work, and considered themselves workaholics.
Skis and Lear Jets
Following the fair, Sharon worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Emmett Watson (1918-2001) as his assistant. She and Watson would remain friends for the rest of his life. Sharon next headed up the advertising department at Alpine Hut. One of Dick's advertising clients was the Jetair Company, Learjet distributors at Paine Field in Everett. Dick loved aviation and went to work for Jetair as executive vice president of marketing and sales in 1966 -- the year the Friels' first son, Rick, was born -- and the couple bought a house in Windermere.
The Learjet Corporation was sold to Gates Rubber Company in Denver, becoming Gates Learjet, which closed down local distributorships to operate from regional offices. Dick was made vice president of marketing in Denver. The Friels moved in 1968 to Denver, where their second son, Christopher, was born.
Dick assembled a power team to work on a new ad campaign. Up until this time, the Learjet was considered a toy for the rich. The new strategy was to sell corporate America on the idea that a Learjet was a workhorse, an essential purchase. As Sharon recalled:
"Dick did so many creative things, which were unheard of at that time. He put the Learjet into Time magazine and a two-page ad in The Wall Street Journal. He began meeting with sales managers across the country and they had their first meeting in Florida. He had an advance copy of the Wall Street Journal and he opened it to the ad and said, 'Tomorrow every executive in this country is going to open up their newspaper and this is what they are going to see,' and it was the Learjet. He did just so many courageous things" (Sharon Friel interview).
Up in the Air
In 1969 the company's Midwest regional salesman was killed in a car accident and Dick, in addition to being vice president of marketing, was asked to run the Midwest region. The Friels had to move again, and Dick took off for Chicago to learn the new territory and look for a house. He found one in Park Ridge, Illinois, close to both his corporate office and O'Hare Airport. In the space of 60 days, the Friels found themselves paying for three homes: the one in Seattle, which they were unable to sell; the house in Denver; and their new place in Park Ridge.
In 1970, Gates Learjet was in transition, and Dick was returned to Denver. A Bekins Moving Company truck took the Friels' furniture from Park Ridge back to Colorado, and for the time being Dick moved into a Holiday Inn. But with the economy uncertain and the market for private jets softening, downsizing was thought wise and Dick was let go.
Sharon had gone with the children to Seattle to attend her sister's wedding. They moved in with her parents for a time, then took a furnished apartment at NE 70th and Sandpoint Way NE. Dick was offered a job with a company called Flight Products, based in New Jersey, and he rented an apartment in New York City. Their furniture remained in Denver. It was a difficult time for the family, and after eight months Dick returned to Seattle. Fortunately, they had been able to find a renter for their Seattle residence and their timing was perfect. When the renter went bankrupt, the Friels moved back into their Windermere home. They called friends, who graciously loaned them furniture.
In about 1973 Dick was hired as president of Thermo-Dynamics, a high-tech company with an office in Lake City. The Friels had not seen their belongings for more than 18 months. Dick took the job with one stipulation -- that the company move their furniture back to Seattle. As Sharon remembered it, "I had a bottle of champagne ready when the Bekins truck pulled in. This guy, Bud, was driving and I threw my arms around him. It was the happiest day of our life; all the kids' clothes, and their toys, our Christmas decorations, everything had come home!" (Sharon Friel interview).
Becoming a Showman
Dick's natural flair for public speaking landed him a part in the 1974 movie McQ, filmed in Seattle and starring Dick's hero, John Wayne (1907-1979), but he would soon perform on a different kind of stage. For a time he worked a side job with Jerden Records and its founder, Jerry Dennon (1938-2017). Dennon had just joined an organization called Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural, and Charitable Organizations (PONCHO), a group of Seattle movers and shakers that formed in 1963 to retire a debt incurred by the Seattle Symphony. PONCHO's initial success led it to 50 years of high-powered fundraising in the Pacific Northwest. Dennon suggested to Dick Friel that he join PONCHO. Friel became a board member and served as the organization's president in 1984.
Dick's start as an auctioneer came one night at a Seattle Symphony Children's Festival of Trees at Merrill House. When the auctioneer did not show up, Dick and C. David Hughbanks (another PONCHO board member) stepped in to help. They alternated that night and the following year. When PONCHO's auctioneer, Jimmy Greenfield, passed away in 1975, other auctioneers came in, and in 1980 Dick joined the PONCHO auctioneer team. He stole jokes and one-liners from hundreds of comedy books, copied these onto 3-by-5 cards for use in speeches and auctioneering, and delivered them with perfect timing.
The Friels met many celebrities in their work, and one was comedian Henny Youngman (1906-1998). He and Dick met through advertising and the two became good friends. Friel even used a variation on a famous Youngman line for a local Chevy dealership ad: "Take my car, please!" Dick was honored with Henny's official gift of a "diamond pin" -- well, actually a dime-and-pin (a dime glued to a safety pin). Dick purchased boxes of these to give to auction directors for good luck. When pins were sold, proceeds went to the Jewish Relief Fund.
Developing the Charity Auction
PONCHO galas gave Dick a stage on which to perform. They were fun, and he loved raising money for good causes. Over the years Dick, Sharon, the PONCHO board, and board members of various local charities developed the charity auction into an important Seattle industry, and in 2013 the city continues to have the most multi-million-dollar auctions in the country. Sharon described charity auctioneering this way:
"A commercial auctioneer is cattle or cars or if a company is going out of business and you need to liquidate items. But at a charity auction, nobody has to buy anything. People come because a friend asked them to come. They may not even know what the organization is ... . Everything started because of PONCHO; they developed the charity auction and I credit Dick with moving it forward to becoming the industry it became. He was a natural at it, and with his understanding of marketing he brought those business skills into producing a charity auction. And with his flair for entertainment and creativity, he was able to add fun" (Sharon Friel interview).
Soon Dick was sought for numerous fundraising charity events. One gig was at the Westin Hotel, raising money for Big Brothers. Attendees were drinking heavily that night and things got hopelessly confused. Dick asked Sharon to join him on stage to help track bids. She did, launching their auctioneering career together. Sharon joined Dick on the PONCHO Gala stage for the first time in 2002.
Tricks of the Trade and the Paddle Raise
The Friels considered charity auctioneering a business, and they developed teachable tools. As they explained, a charity auction has several goals: it introduces an organization and its mission to the public, it raises awareness of the group's needs, and it invites the public to support its cause. They cited "the four Ps" as important in planning: the People (audience development), the Party (the event), the Procurement (bid items), and the Paddle Raise (or Fund-a-Need). Dick established signatures in his performance: his characteristic foot stomp and "thank you, thank you, thank you" following each sale, throwing cards in the air, and using the names of people in attendance. He always came prepared with his jokes and one-liners.
Their son Rick eventually joined the Friels on the auction stage, helping to track bids. One of their most successful innovations was the "Paddle Raise." In 2013 Sharon Friel recalled how it got its start:
"Dick was the one who started the Paddle Raise and it swept the country. It was his idea. About 20 years ago, we were asked to do an auction for Jewish Family Services. It was an October Sunday-night auction at the Westin, and when we got there the executive director of the charity told us that during the night one of those huge Seattle storms had taken off half of the roof of their facility for the mentally ill. She didn't know how they were going to replace it. She couldn't take the money from the auction because it was all earmarked for other things. Dick said maybe if we just told people the story, we could raise the money. So during the auction, he brought her up and she told the story, started crying, and said, 'We have to have $11,000 by Monday to get this roof repaired.' And so Dick suggested people just give $100 if they could and we got about $14,000 in about two minutes. We got in the car that night and Dick said, 'I think we've come up with something'" (Sharon Friel interview).
The name "Paddle Raise" came from the fact that in the early years bidding numbers were written on ping-pong paddles. Later, paddles were replaced with cards, and today the Paddle Raise is often called "Fund a Need" and used in nearly every auction. The charity auction made a big leap with the addition of the Paddle Raise, and nonprofits adopted it worldwide. It often accounts for about 30 percent of funds raised.
Seattle auction planners also became experts at leveraging. For example, every $1,000 Paddle Raise could be matched, or every $500 or lesser amount. Since an auction only lasts about four hours, there is a need to develop many revenue streams. The Fred Hutchinson Holiday Gala (benefiting the Seattle-based cancer research facility) has been a leader in leveraging. The Friels did Hutch auctions for 20 years and found that their volunteers -- many of whom previously had worked school auctions -- brought innovative ideas.
Teaching the Method
In 1983, Dick was asked to do an auction in Canberra, Australia, patterned after PONCHO. He and Sharon went to Sydney in 1985 and conducted the first charity auction to benefit the Australian Opera Company. They were asked to do more: three in Melbourne, two in Canberra, and 12 in Sydney.
Dick continued to work in advertising and Sharon divided her hours between being a mom and working for Children's Hospital. The couple also did several auctions a month and frequently answered questions about how to give a successful charity auction. Life, they figured, might be much simpler, maybe even profitable, if they taught a class in auction techniques. So, in 1985, they developed and presented "125 Tips for a More Fun and Profitable Auction," an all-day event at the Sheraton Hotel.
The response was huge. The class gave concrete advice, covering everything from initial planning to follow-up thank-you notes. Soon they were teaching classes across the U.S and in Australia as well. They also began to charge for their auctioneering, but since they were raising dollars for charity, they chose a rate well under that of a commercial auctioneer, starting with a base price of $750, plus $40 for each live-auction item sold and $40 for each increment level in the Paddle Raise.
Dollars for Research, Research for Cure
Sharon's association with Children's Hospital had begun when she joined a hospital guild after graduating from college. A passionate and creative worker, she was president of the Children's Hospital Guild Association from 1987 to 1989 and went on to serve on the hospital board for 24 years. It was Sharon's idea to approach Costco and ask it to sponsor a Children's Hospital fundraiser, the beginning of a long partnership between the hospital and the company. Dick was equally passionate about raising money for Children's, and the Friels were instrumental in beginning the "Auction of Washington Wine" to benefit the hospital. During Sharon's time on the board, the cure rate for children's leukemia went from 20 percent to 80 percent. The research dollars were working.
In 1988, Dick helped organize "Friendship One Around the World for Kids," a fundraiser for children's causes. One hundred people gave $5,000 each to be passengers aboard a United Airline's Boeing 747 plane that would attempt to break the speed record for an around-the-world flight. Arriving back at Boeing Field on January 30, 1988, after a flight of 36 hours, 54 minutes, and 15 seconds, they did indeed break the record, and the effort raised $500,000.
Raising Rock Musicians
Talent in the Friel household included sons Chris and Rick, who at a young age became rock musicians. Dick and Sharon supported them fully, while advising them that they would need to work hard to succeed. The family room became a band room where a group of five young musicians practiced. Dick and Sharon attended all of their sons' concerts. At first the kids were too young to drive, so Sharon hauled them and their gear, sometimes driving a truck.
Chris played drums and Rick played bass, and in 1979 they helped form a Seattle-based KISS cover band called Warrior. School friend Mike McCready played guitar. Then, from 1982 to 1988, the Friel boys were part of a popular heavy metal band, Shadow, with guitarist Danny Newcomb and vocalist Rob Webber. When McCready went off to join the mega-star band Pearl Jam, Chris Friel and Newcomb helped form Goodness and Rick formed Jodie Watts. In 1999, the brothers rejoined McCready for a side-project band, the Rockfords. McCready lived with the Friels for a year while he was in high school and was like a third son. When Sharon put the family home up for sale in 2013, the band connections helped to sell it in one day.
Seattle-based Aviation Partners, Inc. was formed in 1991 by Joe Clark and Dennis Washington for the purpose of making Gulfstream 2 jets more fuel-efficient so they could fly coast to coast without refueling. Clark had worked with Dick at Learjet and chose him as Aviation Partner's senior vice president of marketing and communications. Company engineers designed what they called a "blended winglet," wing-tip extensions that reduce drag and increase lift. Dick assembled a team that he had worked with for most of his life in advertising, including designer Chuck Pennington, copywriter Palmer Pettersen, and photographer Bob Peterson. Together they worked on a campaign to tell the world what a blended winglet was and to convince corporations to buy them.
A second phase of the effort came in 1999 with the formation of Aviation Partners Boeing, created to make it possible for airlines to adapt their Boeing 737s with blended winglets and to license the winglet technology for use on a range of Boeing aircraft. Due to the team's effective promotional campaign, the winglet concept quickly caught on with airlines and owners of corporate jets. Southwest Airlines was the first commercial carrier to adapt, refitting its 737s. Soon Alaska, Aloha, and other airlines wanted blended winglets too, and the company was hugely successful.
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!
By the 1990s, the Seattle community was thanking and honoring Dick and Sharon with numerous recognitions and awards. Dick was also continually honored for his advertising work, with awards that covered the walls of his office at Aviation Partners. The couple was honored together in 2001 with the Pennington Award, the highest honor given by Children's Hospital.
Despite ill health in his last years, Dick continued with both his full-time work at Aviation Partners and charity auctions. He died on January 14, 2010, at the age of 76. His memorial -- complete with a flyover in the missing-man formation -- was held, appropriately, at the Boeing Museum of Flight. Nearly 1,000 people attended. In Sharon's words:
"One of the things I wanted at Dick's memorial service was that people understood the whole man, because Dick had so much respect within the aviation industry and those people did not know he was a charity auctioneer. And most of those who knew him as a charity auctioneer had no idea that he had a full-time job in aviation. His schedule blew me away; he was a workaholic and he would usually start out with a power breakfast at the Four Seasons, (now the Fairmont Olympic Hotel) and maybe get some auction business done and then Aviation Partners at Boeing Field. Dick loved life. He loved everyone and taught everyone how to hug and he was always so interested in you and what you are doing. He was the hardest working person I've met in my life" (Sharon Friel interview).
When the Friels were featured in a KIRO TV interview by Steve Raible in 2005, Sharon remarked, "We've had a wonderful life and we've been so lucky to work with each other. We have met the most remarkable people who are totally involved with the most remarkable causes. That makes this a remarkable community and all of us benefit from that" (Raible).
After Dick's death, Sharon continued her charity auctioneering and was still at it in 2013. Son Rick also continued on the auction stage, doing Rocktions through Northwest Benefit Auctions (NWBA). In 1999, Chris married rock-and-roll vocalist Kim Virant (Lazy Susan) and, in 2012, Rick wed his longtime girlfriend, rock photographer Anna Knowlden. Both Rick and Chris continued performing in various local rock groups.