HAPPY CRAFTY GROVERS MAKE ORNAMENTS FOR THEIR TREE. Photo provided
Christmas came a little early last Thursday, thanks to the Cottage Grove Rotary Club, local businesses and a host of volunteers.
When the doors at Bohemia Elementary School swung open at 6 p.m., the cry, ”Here they come!” was passed along from volunteer to volunteer. Eager children with their families streamed into the decorated Cafeteria, and many formed up in anticipation of time with Santa & Mrs. Claus. Others headed to the Gym to play the carnival games, grab a hotdog or cookie, over to the crafts tables or to get their faces painted.
There was a wonderful Christmas spirit that filled the room and it was rewarding to watch families happily doing things together. Other community organizations were there too, like the Cottage Grove Carousel with some of their animals and the Humane Society to insure that pets were not forgotten during the holidays.
This event has been a been a tradition with the local Rotary International Service Club in Cottage Grove since 1983. Rotary Clubs in many communities do a similar event annually, often partnering with other organizations to help provide this service. While everyone is welcome, one motivation of the event is to provide a positive holiday experience for families who may be struggling to make ends meet.
Santa has a present and some some kind words for each kid, who then receive a picture of their time with St. Nick. Christmas trees along with decorations, are given away by ticket drawing. Trees having been donated by Hendrickson’s Tree Farm, and sponsored by club members.
Long time Rotarian, Robert Ball, filled me in on some of the history of this event. When it first started the Rotary Children’s Christmas Party was held at the Armory. As the event became more popular, the swelling crowd size exceeded the space available there and was moved to Bohemia School. Once landing at the elementary school, the increased space allowed the event to expand.
The games, activities and food were added as facilities were gained. Ball recounted the numbers as high as 600, with 53 trees given away. In past years, larger gifts were given with children able to choose from a selection. This eventually became too expensive, and generated a somewhat chaotic feel to the event, leading to the more family friendly experience that now occurs.
Over in the Gym, members of the Cottage Grove High School Interact Club provided the leadership and muscle power to run quite the array of various games of chance and skill that ringed the large space. Some prizes were on the line and it was fun for all to take a shot at a balloon with a dart, or any of the other classic games.
Interact is Rotary’s service club for young folks ages 12 to 18, and is sponsored by the Cottage Grove Club; however, it is self governing and self-supporting. Interact club members are often seen at community events volunteering their time and energy. In serving their community, they are developing leadership skills, integrity and a taste for service and hard work. From the smiles I saw there, the Interacters are learning their lessons well.
Throughout the evening, school board member and rotarian Sherry Duerst-Higgins kept circulating, checking in and making sure everything was flowing smoothly, from Santa’s Elves to the last cookie crumb.
She serves as chief organizer and spends countless hours getting volunteers and donations lined up to make this a special experience for Cottage Grove families. Rotary and Interact club members were plugged into all of the many stations that make up this event. She also stayed until the end, sending all of the materials used for the night home again and getting the school ready for opening on Friday.
The Rotary Children’s Christmas Party is held the First Thursday of December, as this coincides with the weekly Rotary Club meeting in Cottage Grove. If you are interested in learning more about Rotary, whose motto is ”Service Above Self,” please call 541-942-0456 or ask an acquaintance who is in Rotary.
Because Rotary’s stated purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders to provide service, and to advance goodwill and peace around the world – what better place to start than right here in our community? Peace on Earth, and to all a good night!
Dana Merryday is a Chronicle Columnist and can be reached at: 541-942-7037;