Last summer the eminently credible Walter Cronkite was correct as usual when he predicted, "I'm expecting him to be right up on that platform as he's been all these years, so I'm not going to waste any tears."

Art Buchwald, succumbing to the request of Possible Dreams cochairmen Kerry Scott and Amy Eisenlohr, has rescinded the decision he made in August to step down as auctioneer of the high stakes fundraiser for Martha's Vineyard Community Services.

"I guess I'm like Pavarotti and Cher," he quipped. "I keep announcing my retirement."

Ms. Scott admitted she used the fact that this would be Mr. Buchwald's 25th year as auctioneer to persuade him. "‘Don't you want to start off the next 25?' I asked him." She quoted Ms. Eisenlohr's description of Mr. Buchwald, referring to him as " ‘the heart and soul and funny bone of the auction.' He brings all of his gifts to us, including his amazing Rolodex. We always said it would take an army to replace him."

In a conversation with the Gazette that shifted between whimsical and serious tones, Mr. Buchwald explained why he agreed to return as auctioneer: "I was talked into it." Pause. "They're holding my grandson Corbin hostage."

Mr. Buchwald said he fully intended to bow out after helping to raise last year's record breaking $500,000. His decision to reassume his duties was influenced by various circumstances, including the settlement that was reached between Community Services staff and management - "So I'm not dealing with labor problems." But the prime motivation, he says, was not being able to find a qualified replacement.

After crediting the auctioneering talents of cohorts Susan Klein and Rick Lee, Mr. Buchwald explained, "You have to be able to take money away from people who don't want to give it to you. You have to find someone who has enough celebrity, because people don't just want to give money to the guy in the next sailboat. And you also have to be able to get big donations from people."

More critical than his performance as auctioneer is the preliminary work Mr. Buchwald does in soliciting donations of items to be auctioned from local businesses and from the Island's A-list celebrities - authors, television and film stars, studio, network and corporate executives. He begins soliciting donations even before he arrives at his Vineyard Haven home in July.

The result is a list of items and events that includes exotic trips, walk-on parts on television shows, tickets to the opera, sporting events, Broadway shows and dinner dates with celebrities, all offered for bids.

"Anything for Artie" becomes the catch phrase repeated by such Island glitterati as Mike Wallace, Bill Styron, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, David McCullough, Dick Ebersol, Harvey Weinstein and Carly Simon. Ms. Scott refers to them as members of "Artie's Army."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist's 24-year participation in the Possible Dreams auction is largely responsible for raising $4.5 million for Community Services' different agencies: Visiting Nurses, Island Counseling, Early Childhood Program, Women's Support Services and Island Community Resources. Last year 6,000 Islanders received services through the various agencies.

"And every penny goes to the care that might otherwise not have been covered," Ms. Scott stressed. "That's been our mission for 25 years."

A lifelong supporter of charitable causes, Mr. Buchwald admitted he likes being able to make a single effort in order to raise money for multiple causes.

"I created my own monster," he said, laughing, "and they all wonder why I'm doing it. But I'm still looking for someone to fill the job, and I can't seem to find anyone. Most people who could do it wouldn't be able to be dependable because of their schedules."

One could almost see him smiling as he declared, "Say this: I will sell the job for $400,000 to anybody who wants it."

In addition to his syndicated column which he writes for the Washington Post, Mr. Buchwald is working on a new book. It will contain Island references, including a description of his fantasy Island memorial service - an event he plans on having officiated by a rabbi, cardinal and minister, "because I don't know where I'll be going."

But he won't be allowed to go anywhere for awhile. Ms. Scott said, "We feel blessed to have Art, and if he wants to stay on forever - Oh yeah!"

At the suggestion he might be willing to extend his role indefinitely, Mr. Buchwald protested. "I'm not looking too far ahead about this or about anything. So last year I had a big farewell party, and this year I'll have a big party."