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An annual children’s holiday event drew hundreds of children and adults to Wapakoneta this weekend, as the event organizer says many factors contributed to the large turnout.
Children made holiday memories to last a lifetime Saturday as they filled downtown Wapakoneta streets during the sixth annual Children’s Hometown Holiday.
“There are huge crowds,” Children’s Hometown Holiday organizer Elaine Poppe said, “more than last year.”
Poppe said the 50 degree temperatures contributed to the large turnout, but the new attractions this year likely played a bigger part.
“There are so many people,” Poppe said during the event on Saturday. “I notice lines everywhere. We have decent weather and people can actually stand in line.”
Children were standing in line to meet Santa Claus at his outpost near the Wapakoneta Fire Department, and tell him their wish lists. Lines also formed at the ice skating ring, which has quickly became a festival favorite, as it is relatively new to the event.
“The ice skating is always a big event,” Poppe said. “We also had more characters this year.”
Characters, such as Hello Kitty and Alvin and the Chipmunks to a live Christmas tree and Fire and Safety Pup, walked around and greeted children on Saturday, along with giving them treats to take home.
Other new attractions included animals, such as camels, donkey, llamas, goats and sheep, were displayed as part of the “On the Way to Bethlehem” tent.
Poppe said the festival takes all year to plan, but it is well worth it.
“When you see all the smiles on those little faces, that makes the planning all worth it,” Poppe said.
Poppe shared that plans for next year started approximately a month ago.
“It’s all for the children,” Poppe said. “I ask businesses, people and merchants for donations to put a smile on a little person and they are outstanding with donations.”
Poppe said this event takes the community’s support, as the event has grown more each year.
“We want children to always remember that their hometown had a special Christmas,” Poppe said. “Everything is perfect. I think things went wonderful.”
Poppe’s husband, John, said this event is all about making memories, especially through photographs, as this event provides many photo opportunities that will last a lifetime.
“Here the emphasis is on photography,” John Poppe said. “People bring their children and make memories. They will have photos to look at 20 years from now.”
At the Riverside Art Center, artists were painting designs on the rosy cheeks and faces of young children to celebrate the holiday season.
“It’s such a gorgeous day,” Riverside Art Center member Pam Knoch said. “We’ve had a lot of people stop by.”
She said that the artists were sticking with holiday themes, by painting anything from candy canes to reindeer and snowflakes to Santa Claus on the childrens’ faces.
“It’s whatever the artist can do,” Knoch said.
Seven-year-old Rylee Cannon had a reindeer painted on her face, as her younger sister, Payton, 3, had a candy cane painted on her cheek by artist Barbara Tompary.
“I love it,” Rylee said of the event. “My favorite part was seeing the horses in the parade. It was really cool.”
After face painting, Rylee said she wanted to sit on Santa Claus’s lap and tell him her wish list. But in the meantime, she has collected many treats.
“I’m getting a lot of candy,” the daughter of Leah and John Cannon said. “Especially candy canes, but it’s ok because I love candy canes.”
Over at Oen Kitchen & Bath Showroom, children were decorating sugar cookies with colored icing and sprinkles.
Friends Allie Wilson and Lydia Cottrell took time out to decorate a cookie during the event.
“My favorite is making the cookies,” Allie Wilson said.
Allie noted the trick was to pick your favorite colors and go with it, when it came to decorating the cookies.
Lydia said her favorite part of the day was all the live animals.
“I like the animals,” Lydia said, “especially the birds.”
Allie Wilson’s mother, Julie, said she thought this event is great for the children.
“I think it’s great for the community,” Wilson said. “It’s neat to see everyone come together. The kids think it’s great.”
Wilson noted that Saturday was all about the children and what they wanted to do during the festival.
“It’s all about what they want to do,” Wilson said.
At The Athletic Club’s studio on East Auglaize Street, children played with Buddy the Elf as they hula hooped and jumped rope with him.
“It’s going well,” Athletic Club Manager Rebecca Manger said. “We’re very busy. I think the kids are wearing Buddy out.”
Manger’s brother and sister were helping out, with passing out treats and doing hopscotch with the children.
“It’s fun for the kids,” Manger said, “and they get to exercise with all the candy they’ve been getting today (Saturday).”
Numerous children had the opportunity to sit on Santa Claus’s lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
After waiting in line, Isabelle Thobe had the opportunity to sit on Santa Claus’s lap, as she told him she wanted a helicopter for Christmas.
“I’m having fun,” Isabelle said. “My favorite is riding the pony.”
For Ashtyn Werling, he asked Santa Claus for a remote control car and an Xbox.
“I really want to ice skate,” Ashtyn said of what he wanted to do after sitting on Santa Claus’s lap, “and see the reindeer.”
His sister, Zoe, agreed and said she wanted to ice skate too, but her favorite part of the day was a tasty, cold treat.
“I liked the snow cones,” Zoe said.
In Marley’s Downtown, several local queens, a local ice skater and a professional baseball player were signing autographs for the children.
Miss West Central Ohio Kelsey Barrett, Little Miss Ohio Ali Wayman, Miss Summer Moon Festival Queen Mindy Keifer, Auglaize County Fair Queen Sarah Wilker, Miss Moon Glow Teen Shelby Boyd, National American Miss finalist Miranda Allen, ice skating champion Lacey Detrick and Brian Garman, a pitcher with the Huntsville Stars, a minor league team of the Milwaukee Brewers were having fun visiting with children of all ages and signing autographs.
“It’s going good,” Keifer said. “The kids are having a lot of fun.”
High school students, including the Octagon Club members at Wapakoneta, were having fun passing out treats, coupons, coloring books and Christmas carol booklets to the children.
“All the kids are coming out and seeing Santa,” Octagon Club’s Children Hometown Holiday student chair Jenna Stoner said. “We are just spreading the Christmas joy.”
As the chair for the event for the Octagon Club, Stoner’s duties included reminding children of the event and helping set up.
“I would have loved to have this when I was a kid,” Stoner said of the event.
Octagon Club adviser Dawn Stinebaugh said this event is a chance to make memories.
“I think it’s great that the community comes together for an event like this.”