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Fifty years ago a group of young women in Palmyra set out to hold a fundraiser they hoped would be more fun than serving soup.
After some investigating into a similar fundraiser in Quincy, the women decided it was worth a risk, and the BLP Holiday Gift Show was born.
On its 50th anniversary this year, the BLP Club members now say this year’s show will be better than ever.
The event will again be held at the Palmyra High School on Saturday, Nov. 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The show will continue to feature vendors with a variety items, and while many of the basic ideas have stayed the same since the first show, there have been some changes.
Carol Fessenden is given credit for bringing the idea for a gift show to the BLP Club to discuss.
“I was working in Quincy and, of course, they had their big gift show, and I thought it would be a good idea for us, so I brought it back to the group and they said, you look into it,” she said. “We agreed it was not a bad idea and we’d give it a try for a year.
“We didn’t have the new gym then, so we set up in the smaller gym and down the hallways,” said Fessenden, noting that first year they only had 30 or so vendors.
“A lot were commercial from stores in town, but once the homemade items caught on, it changed over to that,” she said adding they always had a waiting list of vendors. “Each year it became more and more people doing handmade items. It’s what the people wanted.”
Among those first vendors was Doris Rule, who had an antique shop in downtown Palmyra, but was concerned about leaving her items over night in the high school.
“About three of us (BLP members) stayed overnight in the high school because Doris Rule wanted to set up on Friday night,” said Fessenden, one of the BLP members who spent the night.
“We were a lot younger then so when she asked about security, we just stayed the night.”
Kay Obermann, who also spent the night, noted it can be spooky at the high school after hours.
“We’d hear a noise and were like ‘what’s that,’” said Obermann.
With no access to table and chairs, BLP had to recruit those items from various churches, then pick them up and deliver them to the school for set up.
“I remember loading up those heavy tables into John Leeser’s cattle truck,” said Shirley Comstock, noting it was hard work for the members.
Once the BLP Club got the high school students involved it became a little easier on them.
“We got the kids to help carry in vendors’ items, so that makes it easier now,” said Obermann.
“We learned as we went along,” she added. “The further along we went, we got the kinks worked out.”
Kathy Nicholson, who has been a member for 34 years, noted the BLP Gift Show remains the only one in the area that offers help to vendors in carrying in items.
“These students give their time to support this great community event,” she noted.
The vendors, in turn, are helping BLP celebrate its 50th show.
“Vendors have generously donated door prizes in celebration of our 50th anniversary,” said Nicholson. “One will be given away every 15 minutes starting at 10:15 a.m.
Each person will receive a door prize ticket when they pay their admission, and the ticket has to be turned into a BLP member in the cafeteria.
“All the door prizes will be on display for folks to choose from with the last drawing at 2:45 p.m.,” she added.
Because patrons will have to take their tickets to the cafeteria to turn in, they can partake of another BLP Gift Show tradition while there.
Food will again be served this year with juicy burgers, chicken salad sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos and pies on the menu.
While it’s been a tradition since the first show to serve food, it’s not quite as much work for the members as it used to be.
“We’ve always served food, but it’s different now,” said Comstock. “We used to bake turkeys at home, take it off the bone and bring in an ice cream bucket full of meat to the high school where we made turkey salad for sandwiches.”
When the health department said the turkeys could not be baked at home and had to be baked at the schools, a problem arose one year with turkeys at the middle school not getting done.
“Kathy (Nicholson) came over and looked at them and said we’d better scratch them so we went out and bought chicken salad,” Comstock said.
“Everything was homemade back then,” Comstock noted. “It was too bad when we had to stop baking the turkeys.”
In addition to main dishes, pies were always served.
“They were always just fruit pies, no cream pies,” said Comstock, while Obermann remember that Elsie Boulware used to make all of the pies for the group.
Members also made homemade cookies and other desserts to sell as well.
The public is encouraged to partake of those while enjoying shopping at the gift show, which will feature over 75 vendors with a variety of craft items and other products.
Because the vendors will be spread throughout the school, including both gyms and main hallways, the north door near the cafeteria will also be open for admittance to the show.
Giving back to
Another thing that hasn’t changed are the donations to various groups in the community from the funds raised during the Gift Show.
Nicholson noted the pride the group feels when handing out checks every year to various worthy causes. Some of those receiving checks have gotten a donation almost every year from BLP.
Among the original recipients of funds from those first shows were the school organizations, Maple Lawn Nursing Home, a graduating senior through a scholarship and the library, which according to Fessenden and Obermann, was a pet project for the group.
“We helped move the library from city hall,” said Obermann, adding the group also donated reading benches to the library.
Devon Payne, the current Marion County Library director, said the generosity of BLP over the years has been a benefit to the library.
“We are very thankful for the BLP group and the donation they make to the library every year,” she said. “We use the donation for various things including adding items to our catalog for our wonderful patrons to enjoy.”
Doug Meyers, Palmyra Parks and Recreation director, said he too is grateful to the club for their donations, monetary and otherwise.
“Palmyra BLP Club has always been a great friend to Palmyra parks,” he said. “With their yearly contributions, the park has been able to purchase new picnic tables and benches. They have helped with playground equipment, playground maintenance, a sensory sidewalk and a friendship garden to name a few. Thanks again, BLP, for being a part of our spectacular park system.
“As Palmyra grows, so does the demand for parks. Maintaining and building an outstanding park and recreation system is one way we can provide an excellent lifestyle for our citizens now and in the future,” he added. “Private help is essential if we are going to continue to enjoy the benefits of our remarkable parks system.”
“BLP has always done a lot for the community, and all of their money stays in Palmyra,” said Comstock, adding that is one reason why a BLP Club was formed.
“Originally we were a Federated Women’s Club, but we wanted to keep our money local,” she explained. “So a group got together, and we formed the BLP Club.”
“BLP has always had good members and good leaders,” Fessenden added. “And the Gift Show is fun. It’s a lot more enjoyable than serving soup.”
While BLP members have always been recognized during the show by their red aprons, this year, they will be wearing a special shirt designed by Sheila Scholl. Members will also be enjoying special commemorative cookies made by Cheryl Schutte.
Brooks Ragar, who heads up the Gift Show, also noted she will again this year be handing out the necklaces good for a free drink at the cafeteria.