The sale on Saturday of two farms off Tates Creek Road netted more than $1.2 million for three local charities, the bequest of two seemingly eccentric sisters who had no close living heirs.
The 200-plus acres were bought by two men — a farmer and another who has no plans for his tract. Their payments will mean $400,000 each for Shriners Hospitals for Children, Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital and the Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children and Youth in Versailles.
The two sisters — Constance Ballard Dills and Helen Aimerjean Traughber — lived simply, said Harold Prather, 82, who had leased the farms from them since 1970 and raised hay and cattle.
Dills, a lifelong farmer and homemaker, died in 2007 at age 84. Traughber, a retired health department nurse in Fayette County, died in 1996 at age 77.
The sisters never had much money and never wanted to spend "a dime" of what they did have, said Prather, who went all the way through school with the sisters in Athens.
Dills' only child, a daughter, died in 1991, and Traughber never had children.
"Connie was a loner, didn't hardly ever get out and do anything," Prather said while sitting in his pickup waiting for the auction to start. "Jean, if she liked and trusted you, you were A-1."
The sisters liked and trusted Prather, and in turn, "I was crazy about them," he said. "But they were both funny, Lord have mercy."
He said the charities were chosen because "they knew all three places done a lot of good for children."
Spokeswomen for Shriners and the children's home were gleeful when contacted earlier in the week about the pending auction and expected sales price.
"How often does a reporter call out of the blue and give such good news?" Wanda Rice at Shriners wrote in an e-mail.
Melinda Ryles-Smith, vice president for development at the United Methodist Homes, called the sum a "phenomenal size for us."
"We are blessed by some generous bequests, but this is one of the largest gifts we have received in a long time," she said. "We are humbled by their generosity."
Marion Sherrow of Nicholasville bought the first farm, three sections that total nearly 68 acres, located on the Jessamine County side of Tates Creek Road. The total price was $501,800, or $7,400 per acre.
Asked if he had plans for the land, Sherrow said, "I have none," adding with a chuckle, "Don't like money in the bank."
The second farm — 147 acres in Fayette County — was bought for $707,000 by Kurt Volk, who owns three other farms on Tates Creek Road where he raises cattle and hay.
Volk said he was heeding the advice of the late businessman William T. Young, who said, "If you can buy any land on Tates Creek Road, buy it." A portion of Young's Overbrook Farm lies along the road.
With Saturday's purchase, Volk said he now owns 541 acres on or near Tates Creek.
Previously, the most Volk had paid for agricultural land in that area was $4,000 per acre. He said he came prepared to pay more than the $4,800 per acre that he did on Saturday, but was glad not to be forced into a bidding war with developers.
"I hate to see land developed. It makes me sick," he said, adding farmland is a precious commodity. "They're not making any more."
Auctioneer Harry Hofmeister with Farm Brokers of Kentucky said he was pleased with the prices the farms fetched.
The two farms were originally part of a 2,000-acre farm owned by the sisters' great-uncle, said a cousin, Lamarr "Sonny" Miller, who attended the auction.
He said the great-uncle — Dr. German Baxter Miller, a medical doctor and veterinarian — had bought some of the land during the Great Depression for $1 an acre.
Miller said he lives on a 20-acre farm that is the last remaining acreage of the original 2,000-acre tract.