Making a difference one bag of popcorn or peanuts at a time
Ninety-year-old Gainesville resident Bobby Grisham, this year's Jingle Bell Parade marshal, is a familiar face not only to his friends and relatives in town, but also to the students at Gainesville and Dora high schools. And for good reason: For 20 years, Bobby has been the local driving force that has raised more than $40,000 for children in need in those schools through a charitable program operated by the Masonic Home of Missouri.
For several years, the effort has meant that Bobby, or sometimes another member of Gainesville's Robert Burns Masonic Lodge, has attended almost all basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball games at those schools, sitting at a table, usually alone, to sell, originally, $10 boxes of microwave popcorn and now, $10 bags of in-the-shell peanuts.
Five dollars of each $10 sale (the Masons' "profit" after purchasing the popcorn or peanuts wholesale) is sent to the Masonic Home where, through its "Creating a Partnership" program, the funds are double-matched, which triples the original amount. As Bobby likes to say, that means, "If we send $100, the Masonic Home sends us back $300 for the school."
Because of that double-matching, some folks forego peanuts or popcorn and just hand Bobby a donation when they stop by his table for a chat. He's always quick to do the math, telling them how much their donation will become when the Masonic Home effectively triples it.
Such dedication to Ozark County kids made selecting Bobby as this year's parade marshal an easy choice, said Jingle Bell Parade chairperson Paula Rose. "He's at all the ballgames, year-round, in all kinds of weather, selling peanuts or popcorn," she said. "We thought he certainly deserved the recognition."
The Jingle Bell Parade, which steps off at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, is part of Gainesville's annual Wonders of Christmas celebration. The event features vendor booths that open at 5 p.m., singing in the gazebo on the courthouse lawn, and the Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest, open to kids ages 4 and 5, which starts at 6 p.m. The parade lines up on Second Street behind Town & Country Supermarket, where floats need to be ready for judging by 6 p.m. After the parade, the Christmas tree in the gazebo will be lit, and Santa is expected to make an appearance for those wishing to take family photos.
For information about the parade, contact Paula Rose at 417-989-1282. For information about hosting a vendor's booth (no fee is charged), call Alisa West at 417-543-0407.
The reason behind his fundraising
Parade marshal Bobby Grisham is always quick to point out that several others also deserve credit and attention for the fundraising success he's credited with. For several years, other members of the Masonic lodge picked up the popcorn from the supplier and delivered it to him. And a fellow Mason, Ray Coahran, helped with sales in the Gainesville school for awhile.
Now, the popcorn has been replaced by the in-the-shell peanuts that are delivered directly to Bobby, and students at both schools quickly step up to help in whatever way they're needed. Bobby says as soon as he pulls into a parking spot at the school, they help carry in the peanuts and help him set up his table. Beforehand, the students help him weigh out peanuts from the large-bundle bags and carefully re-bag them into smaller, two-pound bags. "They really do a good job. If it's a little over, they'll take out a big peanut and replace it with a smaller peanut, so it comes out just right. Or if it's a little light, they add another peanut," he said with a smile.
“His basis for getting started with [school fundraising] was remembering children from his childhood who didn’t have their basic needs met...food and clothing. That was hard for him to see then, and this is a way to help prevent that from happening to other children now,” his daughter Greta Bradley told the Times earlier this year when Bobby celebrated his 90th birthday. “He’s very conscious that his name is associated with this effort, but it's important to him for people to know that the Robert Burns Lodge in Gainesville supports this by their hands-on efforts as well.”
Bobby is a 1952 GHS graduate. He and his high school sweetheart, the former Imogene Hampton, had been married 64 years when she died in 2017. They lived away from Ozark County for several years after high school but in 1983, they moved back home, where Bobby ran a backhoe and dumptruck business while also managing the Bob Grisham Rock Quarry west of Gainesville. He retired and sold the business in 1995.
He is an Army veteran who served from 1953 to 1955. His other interests in Gainesville include his church, First Baptist, and the Order of the Eastern Star. He's also a Shriner and supports the Shriners' efforts to help kids get medical help through the Shriners Children’s Hospital.
A 61-year Mason, Bobby has received the Mason of the Year award from the Masonic Lodge. Gainesville's Robert Burns Lodge is one of only two lodges in the state that have participated in the Masonic Home's Creating a Partnership program since the program began 20 years ago. And Bobby is the only individual Mason in the state who has been continuously active in the program since its inception, says program coordinator Tish Woodward.
In 2021, Bobby also was given the Missouri Senior Service Award by 33rd District Sen. Karla Eslinger on behalf of program-sponsor Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.
Most recently, Bobby was recognized during the Nov. 16 red-and-white chili-supper scrimmage event at Gainesville High School. He was called from his peanut-sales table near the school's entryway to come to the gym, where the crowd rose in a standing ovation to honor him. Fellow Masons Jerry Kiger and Gainesville superintendent Justin Gilmore had arranged the recognition, which included giving him a plaque that said, "In appreciation of Bobby Grisham for his service and dedication to the Gainesville schools and community. Thank you for 20 years of service."
But as much as Bobby appreciates the awards and recognition, he seems to treasure even more the respect and affection the students show him. When he walks into the building, he said, he often hears, "Hello, Bobby Grisham!"
Helping kids who are 'food insecure'
These days, the schools use the Creating a Partnership funds Bobby helps raise to support their backpack programs, an activity that sends nonperishable food items home with students in need.
Misty Perry, the GHS college and career adviser and community support specialist, said 131 Gainesville students who have been identified as "food insecure" in pre-school through 12th grade receive food through the program. The school had anticipated having 70 to 80 students on the program this year, she said, and it was "kind of a shock" to see how many students needed help.
While the program originally sent the food home in special backpacks ahead of weekends and school holidays (thus the name "backpack program") the food items are now sent home in paper grocery sacks that students can tuck into their own bags or backpacks. Students in Gainesville's Youth Empowerment Program sort and bag the food. It's then delivered to the elementary school and left outside classroom doors for teachers to discretely put into the students' own backpacks. Or it's put directly into junior high and high school lockers toward the end of the school day for those students to take home.
Gainesville now operates on a four-day school week, so enough food is sent home for the student on Thursdays for a three-day weekend. Before last week's fall break, the bags contained enough supplemental food for nine days, Perry said.
The greater demand for food means the program needs more funds, Perry said, so Bobby Grisham's fundraising efforts are especially appreciated now. The school also recently secured a community partnership agreement with Convoy of Hope, which delivered seven pallets of food for the program the week before Thanksgiving.
Bobby is equally loved and respected at Dora School, where students help in similar ways to their Gainesville peers to get Bobby's "merchandise" ready for sale. Superintendent Allen Woods, reached during fall break when he was away from school without access to backpack program records, said he thought 30 to 40 Dora students receive food through the program, which he called "a very good thing for the students."
Dora middle school teachers organize the program, making sure the supplemental food is discretely distributed to the students to take home. Woods said he knows the food is greatly appreciated because, "an unfortunate truth is that, for some students, the only meals they get in a day are at school." He added that, like other schools, Dora serves breakfast and lunch to its students.
How to help
Bobby Grisham and the Robert Burns Lodge in Gainesville support Gainesville and Dora schools through their charitable work. Ozark County's two other Masonic Lodges also support area schools.
Bayou Lodge in Bakersfield supports Bakersfield School, and Sampson Lodge in Theodosia supports Lutie, Thornfield and Mark Twain schools. In addition to their fundraising efforts, the lodges gratefully accept financial donations from the public, and those gifts are also returned to the schools with a double match by the Masonic Home.
To help, make checks payable to the specific lodge, noting "Creating a Partnership" and the designated school's name on the memo line. For Robert Burns Lodge in Gainesville, send gifts to Randy Spurlock, P.O. Box 12, Squires, MO 65755. For Bakersfield's Bayou Lodge, mail checks to Royce Wheeler, P.O. Box 265, Bakersfield, MO 65609. And for Sampson Lodge in Theodosia, mail checks to the lodge at P.O. Box 301, Theodosia, MO 65761.
Remember to note "Creating a Partnership" and the designated school name (Bakersfield, Dora, Gainesville, Lutie, Thornfield or Mark Twain) on the memo line.