HOT CHOCOLATE NIGHT: AT FRONTIER VILLAGE?
By Don Arndt
First, it should really be called something like “Santa Claus Night” or “Free Rides Night” or possibly “Watch the Kids Smile Night” but it’s not. It’s called Hot Chocolate Night, and it all started because of one man and one event in 1985.
A few weeks before Christmas in 1985, Frank Enos decorated his building that he had just completed construction on. He had built the leather shop right across the street from the recently restored Mt Vernon School at Frontier Village. He had covered the shop with Christmas lights and turned them on thanksgiving night. We had many comments about it due to the fact that it is visible from 71 and 18 highways both.
The next year a handful of us decided to “light” the old school and the newly constructed Lions Club building. Jim Nixon knew of some old Christmas lights not in use anymore and with great enthusiasm we tried to at least match the job Frank Enos had done. Frank was called over to supervise and then it looked good.
The weather turned awful, it snowed and then the temperature fell to 15 degrees, so a trip was made to Thriftway store where Jim Yoss donated hot chocolate to the worthy cause. We had built a cozy wood fire in the old school house stove, looked at the lights, told stories and drank free hot chocolate till pretty late. Before it was over we had about 20 folks there and it was fun. Right then, it was decided to do it the next year only then we would invite the community.
Well, Jim Yoss stayed hooked with the free hot chocolate for the now few hundred, and the Ladies Aux. made a bunch of homemade cookies and the Pruden family made sure there were a few horse and buggy rides available. Every year since, the numbers of families have increased attending this event.
The Adrian Lions Club had always invited Santa Clause to an evening on Adrian’s Main Street to hand out the sacks of goodies to area kids. The fact that the Lions Club and the WMAT MA were sort of joined at the hip since the early days of the annual show at Frontier Village, and the fact that it was sometimes bitterly cold on Main Street for Santa and the kids, it was decided to marry the two fun evenings into one.
It has been a great partnership. Santa could now be in the old school by the fire and with so many folks getting involved, providing more and more rides each year, it has now become one of the really anticipated events for lot of folks in the Adrian area.
That’s how it all started. Over the years there have been many changes from that first very cold hot chocolate night, but after a twenty three year tradition, the event is still free to all comers. The kids (and grandmas and grandpas) have a range of things to do including train rides, lighted tram rides, several horse and buggy rides, old cars and kiddy barrel train. The Ladies Aux still bring in cookies, but now they each furnish three dozen trying to meet demand. The ladies will go out to Yoss’s again this year, only now it’s Kip that will hand them the many boxes of donated hot chocolate. Probably enough to serve a thousand.
Frank Enos was the boss of the lights. He designed the lighting on most of the buildings and did the lions share of the installations for many years. He was on the grounds every day from Thanksgiving until New Years, fine tuning the system and replacing burned out lights. Frank retired from the job that he had done so well after twenty years. Now there are six to ten guys every year trying to fill his shoes. Several try to help, but our hats off to Delbert Watts, Kenneth Englehardt and Don Hill for installing nearly all the lights on the many buildings at Village. Many, many people are involved and volunteer, but installing the thousands of lights is a major task. We do have to buy many new lights each year and will gladly accept donations for that if you want to help. Many of the lights and timers are donated by members and some club funds are used. A generous donation each year from the Adrian Bank takes care of the “extra” electric bill created by all the lights.
The railroad guys have been working all week stringing lights. To be sure, they’ll have their area ready for the onslaught of hundreds of wide eyed young train riders. Their little noses will be red from riding the rails around the park in the cold, and some will cry when it’s time to get off. What great fun.
Just a couple of stories: year before last I was giving a ride to a middle age couple and, not recognizing them, I asked where they were from. “Higginsville” she said. “We heard about this a few years ago and never miss it. We bring our grandson.” Last year I had a young man and his wife with a little boy get aboard. We started around the park and he said, “You know, I saw you out here doing this when I was a little boy. I came out with my parents.”
So bring your kids and enjoy the evening. Hot Chocolate Night is always the first Saturday night after Thanksgiving, starting about dark. We turn on the lights for the first time each year on Thanksgiving evening.
What a wonderful community we live in!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a very Merry Christmas.