In Third Year, Gingerbread House Competition has Solid Foundation< < Back to
The Athens County Historical Society and Museum will be a winter wonderland throughout December, thanks to two Athens County natives.
A couple years before Jan Hodson retired, she saw a documentary for a gingerbread competition, and noticed how people’s faces lit up when looking at the entries. “How would that idea work in Athens?” she wondered.
Hodson then teamed up with her childhood friend Joyce Mullins to kick off the Uptown for the Holidays Gingerbread House Display and Competition. Now in its third year, the contest continues to evolve.
Over the past few years, Hodson and Mullins have added categories to accommodate participants and their ideas. For example, they separated a professional category from a non-professional category so that local chefs and bakers would not have any unfair advantages. Additionally, they added categories so that those who do not wish to submit an Athens building replica — as winners were required to do — can still participate.
Since the competition’s inception, Hodson has seen replicas of buildings such as Cutler Hall, Stocker Center and the Mount Zion Church, and fictional structures such as Hagrid’s Hut from Harry Potter and a pirate ship.
This year, the gingerbread houses are being displayed in one place, rather than various uptown shops and businesses. The Athens County Historical Society and Museum is featuring all of the houses through Dec. 30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., and Thursdays noon to 8 p.m.
Seventeen contestants dropped off their gingerbread houses on Tuesday, and a panel of judges selected the winners:
• Winner of the $500 Grand Prize Professional Category: Nancy Mingus, The Kidwell Covered Bridge
• Winner of the $500 Grand Prize Non-Professional Category: Sarah Boumphrey, Fourth Meal-The Burrito Buggy
• Teen First Place: Allie Holm, Sesame Street Christmas
• Child First Place: Sam Billerbeck Popoae, Medieval Church
• Group First Place: The Miller family, Chateau Shalom
• Children’s Group First Place: Owen, Allison, Olivia and Lauren Barnes, Hocking Valley Candyland
The Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau donated one of the grand prizes of $500 and gave Athens gift baskets to all second place winners.
Oftentimes, gingerbread houses are associated with Christmas, but Hodson said that doesn’t have to be the case, which is why Kristin Miller created Chateau Shalom, the Group First Place winner with her three-year-old son, Jack. The house includes the Star of David, a menorah and a ton of glitter.
For Jack’s first gingerbread house experience, Miller said she wanted him to learn more about Hanukkah because Jack’s father’s side of the family is Jewish.
“We just thought we would take it in a different direction,” Miller said. “We already had our Christmas tree up…(Chateau Shalom) helps to celebrate Hanukah.”
Miller said that, since their Jewish side of the family is in Phoenix, and they wouldn’t be visiting this year, they found a way to celebrate together at home.
Hodson said at the end of the event, some contestants pick up their creations to take home while others have them thrown out. Miller said if it’s still standing, she and Jack would love to bring Chateau Shalom home.
Another house that will come home is a Wizard of Oz-themed gingerbread display.
Kristin Mazzeo Barron, a teacher at the Ohio University Child Development Center, entered individually with a replica of the Ohio University President’s Residence, but also entered her preschool students because they all had a knack for baking and have shown a great deal of enthusiasm for Gingerbread Man stories.
Sixteen children, ages three, four and five, split up into groups to make different parts of Oz. Mazzeo Barron said the children were “almost unanimous” on the Oz replica after the class had read the book and listened to the music together.
The display, roughly 18 inches by 18 inches — and every inch is covered — includes the Emerald City, the poppy field and Dorothy’s house, which has fallen on the Wicked Witch of the East.
“We’re definitely going to bring it back and have it in our school, along with some photos of every step of the process,” said Mazzeo Barron. “Every child was really involved in multiple steps of the process.”
Hodson is continually impressed with the community contributions to the event.
“These entries are just amazing every year, and that’s the fun of it…the creativity involved and the hard work,” Hodson said. “It’s really fulfilling for me to see that.”