Story and photos by Lynn Davis
Hundreds of children came dressed in their holiday best, with baskets in hand, to take part in the annual Easter Egg Hunt sponsored by the Elks and Emblem clubs.
Beginning at 7 a.m. volunteers distributed an estimated 5,000 decorated eggs throughout two areas in the park, one for youngsters through age 5, the other for those 6-12.
Shortly after 9, the starting whistle blew and the hunters were off and running. Chaos doesn't begin to describe the scene. Mothers were seen running with babies in one arm, toddlers, baskets and bags in the other. Children screeched with delight as five or six of them charged for the same defenseless little egg.
Older brothers and sisters, who had participated in the past, but had grown too old for the hunt, taught their younger siblings the ropes; showing them how to bypass the healthier hard-boiled snacks in favor of the plastic kind filled with sugary treats or money.
The hunt has been a part of the community for so many years that many of the parents had participated when they were children.
"Its wonderful. They've been doing this since I was a kid," said hunter chaperone Greg Hager for the yearly Elks tradition.
Sue Thompson brought her grandchildren to the event. She explained, "I brought both of their mothers here when they were little."
Her 4-year-old grandson, Austin Bell, set an example for other children when he decided to help out a fellow participant in need.
"He let a little girl choose which ones she wanted from his basket because she didn't have any," said Thompson.
Elks Inner-Guard Diane Heron volunteered her time, along with many others, to cook and color the eggs and to help place them around the park. She said she believes events like these are important for children to take part in whenever they can.
"Its part of being a kid. They've got to grow up too fast as it is. Its important for them to do things like this and enjoy their childhood," she said.
Emblem Club President Francis Johns Kern agreed with Heron's sentiments.
"Kids have a lot more to deal with these days. They're growing up too fast," she said. "Youth are our future."
In addition to volunteering for egg preparation duty, Kern served another term as Easter Bunny, and said she enjoyed every minute of it.
"I think it turned out great. This is my fourth year as the Easter Bunny. I enjoy it. I like kids. I guess I just like people."
Kern said the day would not have come together so nicely, had it not been for the efforts of lead organizer, Lecturing Knight Alice Phillips.
"She certainly worked hard, and it was a job well done," said Kern.
Heron also praised Phillips's efforts.
"Alice got everybody organized," she said. "She, and many others, put a lot of time into the project."
Phillips also worked with the city to assure damage to the flowers and property from hundreds of stampeding little feet would be kept to a minimum.
There was one thing, though, that didn't quite go as planned. Heron said Phillips had many fun, giveaway items prepared to distribute among participants, but only a few children found their way to the volunteers' table.
"(Alice) was disappointed more kids didn't come over to get the free give-aways," said Heron.
Phillips obtained many donations from throughout the community, primarily from area grocery stores for the thousands of eggs that were needed, making sure no children left the event empty-handed.
Kern explained that, in addition to sponsoring fun activities for children, the Elks and Emblem Club offer kids their support in many other ways. The organizations provide a drug awareness program, funds for various sport and other programs, and educational scholarships, just to name a few.
Discussing the commitment Elks have to the community's young people, Heron reported, "The Elks are American citizens who support our country and believe in God. You've got no country if you don't support your youth."
"I don't think there is such a thing as investing too much time in children."
Regarding the value of the Easter Egg hunt, she explained, "Kids are here to have a good time. "They're just out here being kids."