1979, I went to work as the executive director of the Aberdeen YWCA. We had several successful programs that served a broad section of the people of Aberdeen. Funding sources included the Brown County United Way, donations, grants (including a Bush Foundation grant for the new Women’s Place program), and various other fund-raising events. Cooking and selling Indian Tacos at Arts in the Park and the annual Festival of Trees in December were both popular and financially successful events.
The idea of the Festival was to invite artists from all areas of the population to decorate and display holiday trees for a holiday party at the YWCA. Good food and local entertainment were all part of the venue.
Storybook Characters were a major draw to the Festival. The YWCA Sewing Ladies met weekly throughout the year to stitch the legendary Storybook Characters made of felt, sequins, and beads and portraying characters of Bible stories. As time went by, more characters from everybody’s favorite childhood stories were added to the catalog. The Ladies generously donated all the money from their sales to the YWCA.
In the last few years of 70s, the YWCA Board of Directors added a new feature to the Festival of Trees. Visitors to the Festival frequently commented they would like an opportunity to purchase other gift items, and some of the artists who had displayed decorated trees were interested in selling their art. Timing was perfect, and Winterfest was born! All money from the Winterfest entry/booth fees was dedicated the Woman’s Place, a program created to serve the needs of women and children who lived in domestic violence situations.
Within a few years, in spite of the hard work of dedicated volunteers and a loyal staff, it became increasingly difficult to keep the doors of the YWCA open. The Board of Directors courageously determined that new ways of offering their programs to the community were to be the future. The YWCA building on the corner of 4th Avenue and South Lincoln was sold to the YMCA, and child and youth programs became part of the YMCA. Zonta Club took on the Festival of Trees fund-raising event for several more years. The Sewing Ladies continued to create Storybook Characters and donated their sale money as they saw fit. The Day Care Program became its own entity and operated out of Faith UMC for several more years. The Women’s Place became the Resource Center for Women. The YWCA approached the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department and proposed an effort to work together on Winterfest. For two years, representatives from the old YWCA worked with leadership from Parks & Rec and the Aberdeen Arts Council to transfer the event. During the transition period, half the proceeds for Winterfest went to the Resource Center and so did all the proceeds from the sale of Indian Tacos!
Aside from the Y’s desire to encourage the arts, I think the most important thing about Winterfest was the dedication and passion of the women who supported the Women’s Place program.