Ozark County-style Christmas events make things merry, continue traditions

Nancy Walker says she’s grateful to Jimmy Fortner, owner of the old Senior Citizen Center on Third Street, for giving her and the other Ozark County Toy Drive volunteers access to the building well ahead of the Dec. 16 event so they have plenty of time for setup. If this year’s event follows past years’ experiences, more than 400 area children will find gifts under their Christmas tree that came through the efforts and donations of area residents who support the annual toy drive – an Ozark County tradition for decades. Times photo/Jessi Dreckman.

Volunteers throughout the county are working hard to get things ready for area residents who look forward to celebrating Christmas, Ozark County style. 

Bakersfield: ‘Home Town Christmas’

The county’s first Christmas season event happens Saturday in Bakersfield, where Santa will be chatting up the  breakfast crowd from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Bakersfield School cafeteria. The menu includes pancakes and sausage, milk and coffee for $2 per person. Parents are welcome to take photos of youngsters with Santa. 

The annual Bakersfield Christmas parade will kick off at noon, with float lineup for judging beginning at 11 a.m.  in the Bakersfield High School parking lot. Everyone who wishes to participate by entering a float, car, four wheeler, dirt bike or horse is welcome to participate. Prizes will be $100 for first place, $100 for best school-affiliated float, $75 for second place and $50 for third place. A prize will also be awarded for best decorated horse. 

Contests will be held for Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas (grades 9-12), Mr. and Miss Snowflake (grades 6-8) and Little Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas (kindergarten through grade 5). 


Gainesville’s Christmas event: Continuing a tradition since 1968 

The following weekend, Saturday, Dec. 9, it’ll be Gainesville’s turn to celebrate the season. Festivities will run from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Vendors and crafters are invited to set up booths at noon on the west side of the square. Vendors are asked to contact Pearl Schneider at 679-0388. 

The Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest, open to 4- and 5-year-old girls and boys, will be held again this year from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Those interested in entering their child in the contest are asked to call Kerrie Zubrod at 417-679-3321 no later than Dec. 1. Parents are encouraged to take photos of their children with Santa.

Nancy Walker, who helped organize and run the Mr. and Miss Christmas contest for several years, recalled that the idea for the youngsters’ contest came from the late Ruby Robins, former owner and publisher of the Ozark County Times. “She came to the homemakers club and said she thought Gainesville needed a Christmas event – and someone to run it. And she thought the club should be the ones to do it,” Nancy said. 

The first Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest was held in 1968, when 20 boys and girls were interviewed by John R. Sims before a panel of three judges: “Mrs. Ed Shelton and Mrs. Wayne Littlejohn of Isabella and Mrs. Paul Menaul of Ocie,” according to the Dec. 19, 1968, edition of the Times, which added that, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, most of the girls said they wanted to be nurses, and most of the boys wanted to be cowboys. 

The first contest winners, announced in the Dec. 26 edition, were described as “handsome, brown-eyed Douglas Rethmeyer and tiny, blue-eyed Sherry Johnson.” Douglas was the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gregory of Pontiac, and Sherry was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gary Johnson of Gainesville.

Nancy Walker noted that these days, a second and third generation of Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas candidates are participating in the contest. “It used to be, when we had it in the courtroom upstairs in the courthouse, we would ask if there were any past contestants in the crowd, and there were always several parents who raised their hand, and some of them even had the fancy name-tags we made for them back then.”  

After this year’s Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest, which will be held outside on the west side of the square, the Lilly Ridge bell choir will perform and church choirs will present Christmas music in the Historium from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m., followed by the reading of the Christmas story. 

The Jingle Bell Parade steps off at 2:30 p.m. Individuals and groups are encouraged to enter a float; call Paula Rose at 417-989-1282 to sign up. Float lineup will begin at 2 p.m. behind Town & Country Supermarket. There’s no entry fee, and winning floats will be awarded $150 for grand prize, $100 for first place and $50 for second place. Individuals, groups, organizations, churches and bands are encouraged to participate.

The Christmas tree lighting in the gazebo will follow the parade.

Cash donations are needed to help with banners and prizes for winning floats and bands. To help, drop off a check payable to the Ozark County Christmas Committee Account at Century Bank of the Ozarks or mail to P.O. Box 68, Gainesville, MO 65655.  


The Ozark County Toy Drive: ‘It’s wonderful to see’

Nancy Walker and her army of volunteers are preparing for this year’s Ozark County Toy Drive, to be held Saturday, Dec. 16, at the old Senior Citizens Center on Third Street in Gainesville. 

Nancy says overnight lining up outside the building is not allowed, at the property owner’s request, but those who show up at dawn are welcome to visit the First Baptist Church, across the street from the old Senior Citizens Center, for coffee and hot chocolate and bathroom access beginning at 6 a.m.

At 7 a.m., numbers will be given out to waiting parents, and at 9 a.m. the doors will open and parents will be admitted by number, 10 at a time, to choose gifts for their children. “Carrier” volunteers will accompany parents so their hands are free to look through the many offerings. 

The toy drive welcomes any Ozark County parents and guardians whose budgets don’t have extra cash for their children’s Christmas gifts. The only requirement is that each participant must show proof of Ozark County residency. A driver’s license will do. 

In addition to getting to choose gifts for their kids, parents will receive a Christmas stocking for each child, thanks to the work of the Friendly Neighbors Extension Club. And each family will get a small bag of kid-favorite groceries, including peanut butter and jelly, Kraft macaroni and cheese and other staples. Each family will also get a sack of candy and a selection of coloring books and/or puzzles and games. And parents can participate in a drawing for one of the bigger gifts, including bicycles and tricycles, red wagons and other large toys. This year there are about 35 big gifts that will go to the drawing “winners.” And finally, each parent will choose from a selection of new underwear and  socks and some new or gently worn clothing. Best of all, they leave with their gifts already wrapped, thanks to volunteers including Gainesville High School students. 

Cash donations are always needed and welcome, says Nancy. Make checks payable to the Ozark County Toy Drive and mail to her at 378 Harlin Drive, Gainesville, MO 65655. Some years, things look a little dire as the toy drive date nears and the bank account is low, but Nancy has learned that God and the good people of Ozark County come together to make something extraordinary happen. 

“It’s wonderful to see,” says Nancy.  


Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423