A Huntingdon Christmas tradition rooted a deep love continues to this day as the Huntingdon Kiwanis Club hosts the annual “Auntie Dorrie” party for children in need in the community.
A legacy left by the late attorney William Wallace Chisolm in memory of his late wife, Ann Dorris Chisolm, continues to fund the event which first began in the late 1920s.
Mr. Chisolm penned detailed instructions for the event in his last will and testament, leaving a sum of money to fund gifts, entertainment and food for the party.
“The will specifically says that the party is to be held in the name of Auntie Dorrie,” said Huntingdon Kiwanis Club president-elect Jamie Yarnell. “The account goes back to 1926. I can’t tell how long they’ve been having the party, but according to the will, this party was supposed to have gone on every year in her memory and her honor.”
Mrs. Chisolm, a well-known stained glass artist whose work was featured in the Chicago World’s Fair Women’s Pavilion in 1893 and a dedicated suffragette who served time in the Occoquan Workhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, for protesting on the White House lawn, and her husband had no children of their own.
She passed away in January 1918, just three months after her release from her imprisonment. Mr. Chisolm died 10 years later in February 1928.
Mr. Chisolm’s will directed appointed trustees to use the funds “for the purchase of toys, ‘Christmas goodies’ and articles of personal adornment” for the “needy children of Huntingdon under the age of 13 years, without regard or distinction as to race, color, sex, sect, religious or irreligious.”
“The party is for underprivileged children in the Huntingdon area,” Yarnell said, explaining the children are identified and invited through local agencies that serve youth and their families. “The party is held at the Huntingdon Community Center every year. They donate the space to us.”
A portion of the money was to be used to buy “useful” gifts.
“I have no serious objection to shoes and stockings being furnished a child who is in need,” he wrote. “But, it is my belief that a shivering kiddie is made happier at Christmas by a gaily painted whistle or a cheap doll than by a suit of health underwear.”
In that spirit, the Auntie Dorrie party is designed to delight.
“Santa comes and brings the kids gifts, they decorate gingerbread cookies, we do build-a-bear and we also have a very friendly elf who comes in and does face painting and balloon hats for the kids,” she said. “They all get gifts.”
Following the appointed trustee’s oversight of the event, it was assumed by the Business and Professional Women (BPW) and then turned over to the Huntingdon Kiwanis.
“We shop and wrap presents and some members bake the gingerbread cookies,” said Yarnell.
The reward for the work is all in the end result.
“I enjoy seeing the kids’ faces. Some of the children may not receive a lot of Christmas gifts. I love to see the joy and happiness in their eyes,” said Yarnell. “I think Mr. Chisolm and his wife would be extremely happy.”