STEWARTVILLE, Minn. — Southeast Minnesota unexpectedly lost a legendary friend, family man and auctioneer this month.
Mike Suess, 69, a well-respected businessman and auctioneer in the Stewartville area, died in his sleep on Sept. 13.
According to his obituary, Suess' auction business was a "hub for farm machinery traders all over the country." On top of being an excellent auctioneer, Suess was a charitable one — volunteering in many auctions to fundraise for several organizations including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and Hayfield American Legion.
Stewartville Mayor Jimmie-John King, who was one of the pallbearers at the funeral, said he bonded with Suess because they were both direct people, willing to say whatever was on their mind.
"Mike was a fair and honest guy, but wouldn't beat around the bush," said King. "He was just a good, straight-forward shooter."
Paul Skifton, a farmer near Stewartville and longtime friend to the Suess family, said Suess Auction and Implement felt more like a second home than a business. On Sept. 17, Skifton was still trying to find the right words to describe Suess, who he said was a "second dad" in his life.
"Mike was the first person I'd go to for advice, on everything," said Skifton.
He was grateful that he got to spend an entire afternoon with Suess on the weekend before he died. He took a picture of Suess with Suess's brother, Phil, as the two were in the shade, drinking water after the auction.
"I said to them, 'I never get you two together, so why don't you stand there for a picture,'" he said.
It would be the last photo ever taken of Suess, and according to Phil Suess, the only existing photo of him and his brother together at an auction.
As expected, there was a huge turnout for Suess's memorial service, and King said people came from several different states so they could pay their respects to Mike Suess and his family.
"He was always fair and always honest, and a close friend to so many people," said Skifton. "Mike didn't have an enemy."
The funeral included military honors, as Mike and Judy Suess lived in Germany from 1971-1973 where Mike worked as a mechanic for the U.S. Army. After Suess was honorably discharged, the two returned to southeast Minnesota where they worked with Mike's parents at Suess Farm Equipment. They eventually moved to Stewartville in the early '80s where they would raise their son and daughter.
Mike and Judy started their own business, Suess Auction and Implement, in 1985, and moved the operation to Racine in 1994. Mike Suess, along with his brother, were self-taught auctioneers, which Mike took pride in.
King said that he knew Suess his entire life because they were both lifetime Stewartville residents as well as auctioneers.
"Over the years we've sort of been in competition with each other for sales, but have done so many benefit sales together," said King. "We always helped each other out."
King said Suess was a great auctioneer, and the last of a dying breed.
"He was a very well-respected auctioneer and not just in the area," said King
In the winter of 2019, Mike and Judy Suess decided to retire from hosting the weekly auctions they'd conducted for 35 years straight. The couple continued to operate the business as a used farm equipment dealer and conducted auctions for other companies at their site.
Skifton said he'll remember Suess as being the ultimate family man more than anything.
"He loved his time with his kids and his grandkids," he said.
'A lost art'
Mike Suess took it in stride when the internet began to transform the landscape of the auction industry. In 2019, when the couple retired, he said he worried that one day there would be no need for auctioneers.
"As far as good auctioneers in the area, we're getting down to a few," said King, who will be turning 65 soon. "And there's not too many young ones coming up."
King said the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the online emphasis in the auction industry.
"I'm not going to say it's a dying art, but it really kind of is a dying industry," said King.
He said the skills that Mike Suess had aside from his selling technique are what made him a first model auctioneer.
"He wasn't just helping families sell off a lifetime of equipment and tools to support themselves, he was providing a gathering place, and entertainment for each of those days," said King. "He was a true entertainer, and that's getting to be a lost art."
Judy Suess upheld the success of their business through the early 2000s by managing their website, which was setup by their son.
"Mike and Judy worked hand in hand their entire life, and they had a very close family that got along and worked well together," said King. "Which is kind of a rare thing to see anymore, a family-run business where they stuck it out, and did well for themselves."
Suess will be greatly missed not only in the area auction industry, but in the community, said King.
"It's just a sad day, to lose a great auctioneer, friend and family man like that," said King.