Published: May 30, 2023
COVENTRY, CONN. — Bruce Ingraham unexpectedly passed away in his sleep on May 15, at the home he shared with his wife of 30 years, Theresa Frey-Ingraham. Bruce was the owner and lead auctioneer of Ingraham & Co, which he founded in 2003, a local institution known for its weekly auctions. Born on May 19, 1962, in Hartford, Conn., Bruce was the son of David Ingraham, a machine parts salesman, and Beverly, an artist with whom Bruce began his career in arts and antiques. He and Beverly ran their own antiques shop in Wethersfield, Conn., and traveled to shows together throughout New England. He also inherited her creativity by creating sculpture throughout his life. Bruce was later a researcher at LeClair’s Auction in Wethersfield, and it was through his involvement with the town’s Shopkeepers’ Association that Bruce met Theresa in 1987, who was then working at Neill Walsh Jewelers on Main Street. Bruce would wait until Walsh was out of his shop to court Theresa, and they married in 1992. “His abundance of love was evident and genuine early on,” Theresa shared. “And it never waned.”
“Abundance” seems an appropriate word for describing Bruce as he is remembered by his family, numerous friends and extensive network of colleagues. Many of his friends had known him almost all their lives, having graduated with Bruce from Manchester High School, Conn., in 1980, or had known him for all of their children’s lives, through friendships with Bruce and Theresa’s daughters, Gretta and Amelia.
“Bruce was by far the kindest, funniest, would-do-anything-for-you kind of man,” recalled Carol Green. “It’s unbelievable how there’s such a group of us that are thrown back by this [loss].” Bruce was “like an older brother” to Greene’s daughter, Amie Grain, whose son Josh Coulombe lived and worked with Bruce at the auction when his father passed away. “He was definitely a father figure to Josh,” Grain added.
This echoed thoughts from others such as Tracy Enders, whose children are best friends with Gretta and Amelia, and saw Bruce and Theresa as second parents. “It’s hard to imagine a world without him,” Enders said. “Bruce had such empathy; he could sense how people were feeling and would always try to bring them up.” Sue McNamara remembered, “Bruce had a heart that was larger than life. He had the ability to put people at ease and treated all individuals he met as though he had known them for 20 years. He was well known for his generosity and helped many of us over the years.” Dana Covaggia added, “Not enough is said about Bruce’s generosity; he ran the most honest auction business, I never lost anything in 20 years.”
Bruce created a family-like atmosphere in his auction house that extended into the larger community. Don Duvell knew Bruce for 25 years, and the two became fast friends after running into each other at different auctions with interest in the same types of antiques. “We always had a way to figure out who was bidding on what,” he said. Don shared that Bruce conducted a charity auction for a fundraising picnic to benefit a friend’s daughter who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When a designer label midcentury pocketbook did not reach its desired selling price, Bruce slipped a $100 bill into it for the fund. Almost every friend and relation had a similar story to share, whether it was Bruce helping them out financially, with a job or just a sympathetic, listening ear.
Colleagues also mentioned Bruce’s mastery of his trade, which was earned throughout his life with voracious research and experience. “His knowledge was envy-provoking,” said Ernie Eldridge of E.S. Eldridge Auctioneer, Willimantic, Conn. “Bruce was always a great guy,” he added, considering him more a good friend of 30 years than a competitor. Mike Rugens and his father, Jim, met Bruce at Eldridge’s, and consigned with him for more than 20 years. When Jim passed in 2017, Bruce gave him a tribute at the auction podium, as he and Mike were regular fixtures at the weekly events, which have a real “family-type feel.” Rugens continued, “He was one of the best auctioneers, Bruce really enjoyed what he was doing and the interaction with people.” Eric Sturtevant, of Sturtevant Antique Shows, Brimfield, Mass., shared that he and Bruce were “like bookends.” He continued, “Bruce was a funny, funny guy with a wicked sense of humor, unless you were on the end of it.”
According to Rugens, the auctions sometimes doubled as a comedy show, often at the gentle expense of his employees and customers. This was almost always taken in good fun, as intended, and each person who we reached out to expressed years of laughter shared with Bruce. “He could get away with saying anything, and you’d still buy from him.” Theresa explained. Dozens of stories were shared, many of which were prefaced with, “I’m not sure if you can print this, but…” Each recollection of Bruce’s sometimes off-color yet harmless antics was accompanied by helpless laughter in the explanation; memories included prank abductions, fire extinguishers and Bruce asking visiting parents of a foreign exchange student to settle their son’s debt for questionable substances bought during his stay. According to Tom Reiley, “Bruce never changed in 44 years, he was the same as the 16-year-old kid I met at Manchester High School.” Bruce’s brother, David Ingraham, shared that he will miss his quick tongue and his broad smile, and “just Bruce being Bruce.”
Hopes were fervently expressed that the weekly auctions would continue, and Theresa confirmed, “We 100 percent intend to continue.” The weekly auctions are indeed a family event, as Theresa and their daughters were almost always present and helping out in some way. Bruce would introduce both Gretta and Amelia as “my favorite daughter,” and each had a lifetime of fond memories with their father in the business. Gretta shared that she will miss his “random acts of kindness,” and remembered that he would always supply his girls with popsicles if an estate cleanout was especially “hot and miserable.” After a bad day at school, Bruce once took Amelia to the auction house where they took turns knocking the heads off porcelain figurines with a golf club. “I do not know how to describe the world, and that’s what Bruce is or was to me,” she said. “My dad lived by his own set of guidelines. He was never not giving, never not goofing and never not being unapologetically exactly who he was.”
“Bruce passed on May 15, my birthday is May 17, and his birthday was May 19,” Theresa shared over the phone. While wooing her, Bruce brought Theresa a flowering rhododendron branch into Neill Walsh’s for her birthday and, 36 years later, the same flowers bloomed on May 17. “He’s very much still with us.” Theresa even found a heart-shaped rock at her feet during her conversation with Antiques and The Arts Weekly. Those who saw Bruce days and even hours before his passing expressed that it was difficult believing that he was gone, but his spirit lives on through the hearts and laughter of those who loved him. “Bruce’s parting words to everyone were, ‘Love you more,’” shared McNamara. “And we all knew he meant it.”
Bruce is survived by his wife, Theresa Frey-Ingraham; daughter, Gretta Ingraham and her spouse Richard Domschine III; and daughter, Amelia Ingraham; as well as his sister, Beth Ingraham; brother, David Ingraham; brother, Bradford Ingraham and his wife Danielle Ingraham and their children, Alex and Max Ingraham. He also leaves behind many other relatives and loved ones, especially cousins Susan and Peter Atkinson.
A Celebration of Life took place from 4 to 9 pm on May 30, at Millbrook Place, 1267 Main Street.
In lieu of flowers, it is requested that customers old and new support Bruce’s legacy by attending ongoing auctions at Ingraham & Co at 44 Lake Street. For information, 860-742-1993.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm