By ANGIE CARNATHAN
The Starkville Civic League, the Starkville Town and Country Garden Club and the Starkville Library have joined forces to offer an afternoon of holiday cheer today beginning at 2 p.m.
The Starkville Civic League’s Annual Christmas Tour of Homes started in 2004 when Edythe McArthur was president, Starkville Civic League Publicity Chair Lynda Forbus said.
“Chairman of the first Christmas tour in 2004 was Moderia Petty, and she remained chairman through 2010,” Forbus said. “Peggy Buckley is chairman this year. In the beginning, the tour was at night and then it was moved to Sunday afternoon.”
Forbus said this year’s tour features the homes of four gracious Starkville families: Mark and Rhoda Keenum, Mark and Carol Lehman, Scotty and Nina Wofford, and Floyd and Sheila Johnson. The tour of homes begins at 2 p.m. and goes until 5 p.m. Tickets can still be purchased today at the Starkville Library.
“You can go to any or all four houses between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” Forbus said. “Each house on the tour will have a family member, friend or civic league member in each room informing visitors of any family history or special pieces of interest each room possesses.”
The Starkville Town and Country Garden club has decorated the Starkville Library with a beautiful Christmas tree and poinsettias. Refreshments will be provided by the Civic League and the Palmer Home Children’s Choir is providing the entertainment.
The choir, under the direction of Denise Wright, features Palmer Home children currently ages 5 through 11.
“The Starkville Town and Country Garden Club have supported the Palmer Home for Children for quite some time,” Wright said. “They purchase Poinsettias that are grown in the Palmer Home greenhouses, and they also give donations to the Palmer Home. They have such a heart for the children of Palmer Home, so we were absolutely delighted and honored when we were asked to participate in this event.”
Wright said the Palmer Home children love Christmas, just as any other child does, and she believes this says a lot about the character of the children there.
“They are extremely excited about any and all events that have to do with celebrating the season,” Wright said. “These sweet children bring the spirit of Christmas with them every time they sing for one of these events. And, the best part is that they are so excited, and their excitement is quite contagious. The Christmas joy spreads quickly and seems to brighten the hearts of everyone who listens as they sing.”
Although refreshments will be available at the library any time between 2-5 p.m., the Palmer Home Children’s Choir is singing at 2 p.m. and the program should last about half an hour. Wright said all types of music are represented.
“They will sing a variety of Christmas songs,” Wright said. “Some sacred songs to celebrate our Christian heritage and some secular songs that are sure to bring joy and laughter during this special Christmas season.”
Vicki Katz of Starkville said the city has benefitted so much from the contributions of the Civic League.
“I have been involved in the Civic League’s Holiday Tour of Homes both as a docent and as a host home owner and it is the perfect way to kick off the holidays and get into the spirit of Christmas,” Katz said.
Civic club member and past Co-Chair of the Starkville Civic League Fund-Raising Committee Genevieve Swartzberg said the event has been an important fundraiser for the club for years and it is grateful for the community support.
“Homeowners participating have been very willing to open their homes for this community project,” Swartzberg said. “Each homeowner decorated their home so beautifully depicting their own traditions of Christmas.”
Starkville Civic League President Charlotte Smith said the funds raised from the tour of homes go to help fund a $1,500 scholarship for a high school student graduating from any high school in Oktibbeha County that will be attending a Mississippi university or community college. Smith said the club also uses some of the proceeds to donate for community use.
“Our donations have helped to fund the downtown clock and Christmas banners,” Smith said. “We also make a donation to one Kindergarten class a year for school supplies.”
Smith said various other organizations have benefited from the civic club’s contributions.
“This year we have pledged $4,000 to help with beautifying the buildings in downtown Starkville with new lighting,” Smith said. “We invite all to view the four lovely homes decorated for Christmas and help us make a difference in our community.”
Rhonda Keenum said their house has no particular theme, but said she hopes to introduce the community to the talented faculty, staff and students at The University Florist and in the MSU Floral Management Program. The Keenum’s decorations were created and installed as a class project. The home’s decorations are a mix of student ideas and Keenum heirlooms.
Visitors to the Keenums’ home will be greeted by members of the MSU Maroon VIP Program, and are encouraged to stroll the courtyard and Christmas gazebo, maintained to perfection by Rob Rice and John Copeland.
“For over 20 years Mark and I were on the road during the holidays — traveling from our home in Washington. D.C. to my family’s home in Booneville and his family’s home in the Delta,” Rhonda Keenum said. “Then our 21st Christmas together as husband and wife, we were blessed to be called parents of then 3 month old triplets. Our 23rd Christmas together we were parents of 15 month old triplets and a 7-month-old baby. Our 25th Christmas together we were packing our home in Alexandria, Va., preparing for our move to Starkville, and our 26th Christmas together, we, as a family spent our first Christmas here at Mississippi State.”
Rhonda Keenum said she knows how much her kids love the ornaments because she often finds them missing from the family tree and hanging on each of the children’s trees in their bedrooms.