You don’t have to hang around Gingerbread Village too long before you realize it’s not really about gingerbread.
It’s about relationships.
Geraldine Orchard hasn’t missed one in 19 years, although the gingerbread-house-making event has moved around Wichita several times before landing at Exploration Place this year.
When she was an elementary school teacher, she brought her classes. And since retiring in 2005, she’s come with her adult children and her grandchildren.
She said she’s really enjoying watching the grandchildren year to year as their ability rises and they put their houses together with less and less adult assistance.
“They really have a plan in mind when they build their house,” she said.
The event is such a tradition for the family that on Saturday, her grandson Andrew was offered the chance to go to his first Kansas State University football game – and turned it down.
“He said ‘I want to go with Mama O’ – that’s my grandma name – ‘to do Gingerbread Village instead,’ ” Geraldine Orchard said. “We’re not going to tell (K-State coach) Bill Snyder.”
The Orchards took up a full table at the event. Grandma, two moms, a dad and five kids. And Saturday’s event brought a chance reunion for the dad, Wichita school district counselor Brock Orchard.
One of his former students, Mica Blocker, was volunteering at the event with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
Brock Orchard was her high-school counselor and helped her get into college. She went to Langston University in Oklahoma, on to graduate school at Oklahoma State University and now she’s a medical student at the University of Kansas.
“To run into him here is a blessing,” Blocker said. “I always wanted to say ‘thank you.’ I don’t think he understands how important he is.”
Gingerbread Village is sponsored by the Assistance League of Wichita. Women from the 160-member group and about 75 community volunteers run the event, said Kathy Wilson, chairwoman of the event.
Saturday was the first time the event has been held at Exploration Place, but Wilson said it’s a natural home for it.
“We thought this would be good since we both do a lot for families,” she said.
This year also marked the first year of competition between high schools to make the best gingerbread house. Five teams from three schools entered, said Jan Luth, president of Exploration Place.
Team A from North High School edged out competitors from Northwest and Metro-Meridian high schools for the traveling trophy, with a colorful candy-landscaped A-frame cabin, she said.
Also new this year, admission to Gingerbread Village comes with admission to the exhibits at Exploration Place.
Proceeds go to four priority projects of the Assistance League:
Operation School Bell, which provides clothing to needy students in the Wichita school district.
Scholarships for vocational-education students.
Sexual assault victim support, including clothing for victims who would otherwise have to leave the hospital in paper scrubs because they have to leave their clothes with police as evidence.
Bear Hugs, a program to provide teddy bears to sexually abused children to comfort them during hospital examinations.
The price of admission to Gingerbread Village includes a box containing Graham crackers for walls and roof, frosting to paste it together, and various candies and other treats for decorations.
In a relatively quiet corner of the room, Lori Love and Gracie Beard were sharing a little grandmother-granddaughter quality time.
Love has been bringing Gracie, now 7, to the event since she was 3. Each year, Gracie makes one house herself and acts as construction superintendent for her grandmother’s.
She takes one gingerbread house home and gives the other to her teacher.
The best part: “That I get to spend time with my grandmother and that I get to make wonderful things,” Gracie said. “I’ve been pretty much eating the supplies, too.”