Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 17, 2005

A few good gingerbread men

Kids head to Highland, hunt down carousing cookies

By TOM CAREY

Armed with M&Ms;, icing, red hots and sparkles, kindergartners decorated and befriended gingerbread men.

That was until “those crazy gingerbread men wandered off,” explained Kokomo Christian School’s Malachi Butzin.

“They runned away,” clarified pupil Dawson Page, and “the lady take them to the park.”

Yes, “they sneaked out and went to Highland Park to swing,” concurred classmate Sydney Parker.

But the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department Gingerbread Program ended — as it has on other times — with the carousing cookies and their young co-horts reunited.

Program’s roots

Gingerbread man field trips started for the parks department in 2001, said recreation secretary Monica Reed, when Sycamore School kindergarten teachers contacted her office. They wanted to expand a program there into a field trip to culminate the search for their lost gingerbread men.

The next year, she continued, more kindergarten teachers got involved.

All Kokomo-Center Schools were contacted the next two years, Reed continued, and Redeemer Lutheran and Taylor Primary school also were offered slots. This is the first year for Kokomo Christian School to get involved. About 700 kids will participate in this year’s programs.

And here’s how it works, Reed explained:

• Participating classes make a gingerbread cookie or craft. Buttons and a smile, for instance, adorned Abby Bechtel’s baked buddy.

• Kindergarteners then are told their little creations have “run away” and must be caught.

• Teachers — such as Kokomo Christian’s Judy Rausch — are told their miniature men have been spotted traipsing through the southside’s Highland Park. The youngsters are given a map with clearly marked gingerbread men sightings noted and invited to come seek them out.

• Whisked off to the park’s Rodgers Pavilion, kids enjoy crafts and cookies, reboard the bus, and peruse the Y’s Men lights displays, looking for their gingerbread men.

• Departing the parked bus at the nearby Elwood Haynes Museum, youngsters decorate trees within with their just-created crafts. The gingerbread man’s story is read to them there, too.

• The gingerbread men have been spotted at Highland, the kids learn. Captured by park icon Old Ben, the horned personality returns the little guys to the students, who then return to school.

Kids on program

Butzin “knew” the elusive edibles were “hiding in Highland, climbing the trees and slides and swings.” Sure, the youth later got to know Old Ben and said he was “cool.” But before that, the youngster feared the famed steer might munch on his baked buddy.

“He was pretty neat” concurred Bo Olander. “He likes kids,” added Kati Litka, and “ ... loves hugs,” noted Ashley Cone.

“I gave him a hug for founding our gingerbread men,” Butzin chipped in.

And students greeted their prodigal sweets with open arms and mouths.

“I ate him at lunch time,” admitted Josie Koontz.

Tom Carey may be reached at (765) 454-8560 or via e-mail at tom.carey@kokomotribune.com