Will this be the last Community Christmas celebration in Columbia City?

Hayes has been a part of Community Christmas for approximately 12 years. He has recruited volunteers, mostly members of his church Sunday school class, to be Courthouse greeters. Gater has been with Community Christmas for about 15 years, and has been chairman for the last 10 years.

“The Community Christmas Celebration needs new people involved. The same group of people have been running it for the past 10 years, and if this is what it takes to shake things up and get some others involved, then so be it,” says Gater. “The actors and actresses may come and go year to year, although we have a core of them who have helped us for many years.”

Pastor Jack Hierholzer is afraid that if no one takes over as chairman, Community Christmas will end its 26 years in the community’s Christmas scene. He has taken care of set up and tear down for at least 15 years. 

“We hate to see that happen. Very few communities provide this type of Christmas event anymore, but we can’t keep this going as is. We only have two to four people at every meeting, and haven’t had anyone new join our committee for years.”

Wendi Barnett, who is in charge of scheduling actors and actresses, guides and narrators, says that it has been very hard to find people who will help this year. She makes many phone calls each night to try to schedule people, but many are “too busy” to help. The committee is afraid of what that means for next year’s event.

Community Christmas Celebration began in 1984, under the direction of Laurel Richmond. Around 1990, it ceased due to a lack of volunteers. A year later, it was revived.

“To rephrase what Pastor Berneice Herr, who was our chairman for many years, always said, ‘We cannot take for granted this unusual opportunity will continue. Therefore, we need to make a concerted effort to present the chance for everyone to take part,’” said Gater. “We have made many efforts over the years to get others to join us. Many have stepped forward to bake, to act, or to help one night or the other, but not to be part of our committee. We only have about six meetings a year to plan this event, and much of the work is done by phone, so it’s not hard at all. And at this point, it runs very smoothly because we have been doing this together for so long. It would truly be a shame for this to end, but it’s time for me to step down and let someone else step up to the plate.”

The churches of Whitley County have supported Community Christmas Celebration from the start, both financially and by encouraging their members to act, bake, sew, and help out in whatever way they can. Businesses like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have also helped by donating items needed.

In addition to Hayes, Gater, and Hierholzer, Community Christmas Celebration members are Anita Harris, who directs the Community Choir and arranges special music (she also has two functions, which used to be done by two different people); Chris Paulus, who is in charge of costumes for all; Ruth Lucas, whose co-workers help her serve refreshments to the community inside the Courthouse; Wendi Barnett, who finds and schedules actors and actresses for all the parts; and Shannon Gangwer, who handles the sound inside the Courthouse. Patty Willyard and Joy Gilraine provide refreshments in the jail for cast members. Sharon Rucker tells stories inside the Courthouse.

The cast members are fed by the VFW Women’s Auxiliary (ham salad sandwiches for at least the past 12 years), and Laud Christian Church (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cookies). 

Community Christmas Celebration has dwindled from being an event that involved churches and community members to one that relies on a small core of people. It’s time to change this in hopes of growing a more dynamic event with larger participation by community members.

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