March 19—By Savannah Howe
Sonny Jensen thought he knew what he wanted in life.
Sonny, an Albert Lea high school student, planned to be a lawyer. He spent his free time as many young men choose to do: playing the guitar, hunting with his father and casting the occasional fishing line. As close as a teenager could get, life was pretty much understood.
Little did Sonny know, his line had different plans for his future, and his true passions were waiting to be discovered.
Since time immemorial, Sonny’s family has been on the podium at southern Minnesota land auctions. Sonny’s late grandfather, Howard L. Jensen, was an auctioneer for Freeborn County in the 1940s. Jensen received the first auctioneer’s license in county history; decades later, when Sonny applied for his own license, he requested and received his late eldest’s license number, #24-01. Whether it’s fate or luck or both, the future is bright – and radically different from what he originally imagined – for this Hayward teenager.
Sonny is one of many members of his family who call the Worldwide College of Auctioneering his alma mater: his brother, father and grandfather all graduated from the school. The family primarily auctions off farms, sometimes with personal possessions, and Sonny says he hopes to one day get into livestock auctioning.
Sonny attended the Worldwide College of Auctioneering in Des Moines in August 2021. He was curious about the business his family had been so dedicated to for two generations, especially after watching his father do auctions. The action, laughter, noise and energy of an auction caught Sonny’s attention.
After attending college and watching his father, Greg Jensen, broker and auctioneer for the family business LandProz, Sonny determined that being on the podium would be “much more fun” than any courtroom. .
“Just getting on that mic, selling, it’s a lot of fun to do,” Sonny said. “There are a lot of great people in the industry. It’s a pretty good community.”
Getting into the after-school auction industry, a week-long program taken by people across the country, is “like going to three piano lessons and then trying to play Mozart,” said Greg. There’s so much more to running an auction than being able to talk fast and pull off a ten-gallon hat: before the family business took off, Greg was responsible for writing his own newspaper ads, his radio promotion and research of buyers, sellers and auction places.
Now LandProz has a full staff, including 65 agents across Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana and the Dakotas. Sonny got his auction license in January after turning 18 (“I’m pretty much an auctioneer now,” he said with a smile), and has already been a point guard for a number of sales in the family business, while helping with social media marketing, pursuing his real estate license and attending high school.
Even with support staff from his family business handling auction logistics, Sonny’s job is far from straightforward. In buying and selling, being a people person and a people person is paramount. A land auction can be anxiety-provoking for both buyers and sellers, and the auctioneer is the most important mitigating factor. Being “honest and upfront” is the best policy and a good auctioneer works as hard as possible for sellers, Greg advised his younger counterpart.
Despite all the stresses that come with it, “our job is fun, it’s just damn fun,” Greg said. His son, who just completed his first farmland auction on Feb. 10, agrees.
“Our job is fun,” Greg explained. “The hardest thing is to accept if you are not able to do this job. … It’s great, we laugh, we make the crowd laugh. Often, I get up in front of [the crowd] and make fun of me.”
An estimated 100 to 200 people currently hold auctioneer licenses in Freeborn County, Greg said. Sonny has the potential to be one of the best.
“He’s doing a great job,” the father said, looking at his son proudly. “He’s got a lot more talent than I’ve ever had. He’s got what it takes.”
Sonny’s favorite experiences so far have been dating and competing. He entered the Iowa State Auctioneering contest last month, where he was named Iowa State Rookie Champion Auctioneer. His main goal is to “do my best for people”. His father added that Sonny will be “a good man and a good auctioneer”.
“I love meeting people and talking to them,” Sonny said. “…Everyone has a different story. I met [a whole lot] people just went to two competitions and they’re all pretty unique.”
Sonny’s goals are to win the International Junior Auctioneer Championship later this year in San Diego and to “sell as much as possible.” His mother, Anna Rahn, said Sonny was a lover of classics – classic rock, classic country, classic cars. When he’s not working on building a band, Sonny can be found practicing his chants – the high-speed chats we most often remember thinking about auctioneers – as he drives down the driving or doing household chores. He learns new things every day, watches his father closely, strives to be a great auctioneer and an even better person.
And he’s a classic Jensen family man.