Holiday Shop – Stories & History
The History of Holiday Shop at MVUC
Compiled by Jan Speakman, September 2023
Last updated October 6, 2023
Saturday, November 19th 2022 was our 60th Holiday Shop and it makes one wonder how this is still happening every year and how it all began. Little did the originators of this annual event know at the time that a simple sale of baked goods and handcrafted goods would become the must-attend event before Christmas – MVUC Holiday Shop.
The Very Early Days – The Months of Set-Up – Artisan Sales – The Quilters – We Relish the Country Kitchen – Lunch is a Must – Betty’s Boutique – Jewelry Box – The End of the Day and the Sunset Soiree – A Whole Church Event
The Very Early Days
It is told that on a beautiful day on our Holy Hill in 1961 Mike Halperin, Bev Sutherland and Rosie Remington were pondering ways to raise money for their church. Every Thursday Group (ET) had begun having 4 mini fundraisers each year (Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Christmas) but they were taking a toll and the ladies of ET, led by Dotty Ann McClelland, decided it was too much so they focused on just one – Holiday Shop. Before the 1980’s Holiday Shop was a multi-day event but after the new Meeting House provided more space, ET decided to make it a one-day event for longer hours.
Claire Chytilo, an original member of MVUC and now in her ninth decade, and her daughter, Jan Chytilo, shared that the concept of Holiday Shop was already part of MVUC culture when Claire led it for two years, after taking over from Marge Whiting who had a long run. ET was the sponsor and served as the center of action and leadership. ET made many items for the sale: felt-covered tins for dad’s cufflinks, felt Christmas ornaments, felt hand puppets, plastic bead ornaments, Japanese style aprons made of Marimekko fabric (Pat Maddox), Barbie doll clothes, and rolled beeswax candles for example. They also had a room just for children to purchase gifts for family. Claire recalls her son, Marc, bought liquor decanters for his dad.
Different approaches were bandied about until they realized that talents were limitless amongst the congregation and they had faith in those folks to donate their labors of love for a good cause.
Folks like Kim Rusinow who made jewelry and Barbara Livingston who knitted shawls. By mid 1980 Pat Jackson was in charge and once the Commons and Chapel were complete the updated Holiday Shop was born.
The Months of Set-Up
The big day does not just come upon us. There are months of organizing, collecting, baking, and forethought beforehand. Vendors get an invitation and application in June for the November event. Tables need to be ordered; signs need to be updated; advertising goes out to the congregation, local newspapers, magazines, and others.
Eventually the placement of the vendors in the Commons and Chapel is finalized. Then during set-up week, the irons and ironing boards come out so freshly pressed red skirts and green tablecloths can dress the tables for a festive look. Name cards are placed so when the vendors arrive to set-up their tables on the Friday before they can feel at home.
Hollin Hall is also getting ready. We need all the baked goods made ready as well as the jewelry and Betty’s Boutique items brought up from the basement. They have to arrange their tables, dress them and arrange their product in an inviting manner. The Lunch crew do what they can to be ready for the day as a lot of their work is done on the day, including heating the copious amount of premade soup.
Parking signs and ropes are set out for the endless flow of traffic that we have throughout the day. Doug MacCleery has been doing this for years.
On the morning of Holiday Shop signage is placed around the neighborhood inviting in passing patrons, smiles are abundant, and greeters are cheerfully chatting with folks waiting in line.
At the beginning they tried many new crafts to sell with some remaining today and some falling by the wayside. Dotty Ann McClelland, Pat Jackson and others learned how to make Kissing Balls and Living Wreathes from sexton John Stevens. There was a great demand for these but due to the length of time and the amount of care to maintain them until the day, they were eventually dropped from Holiday Shop. Another short-lived item was the felt Advent Calendar with twenty-five tiny felt ornaments. There were no vendors in the early days so some items were bought in to resell. Naomi Kaitz found an organic market, MOM’s (My Own Market), in Rockville where they would purchase organic cheeses for the ever-demanding Holiday Shop clients.
At some point they moved from consignments to vendors. Today we invite artisans to come and sell their wares which means we can offer a wide and interesting array of items. They talk to fellow artisans and our list grows. Of course, we still have a few of our own congregation that participate as well. Pam Koger-Jesup, who has sold at Holiday Shop for 21 years now, and her daughter, Sarah, offer their talents of knitting and artistry. MVUC’s Flower Card Artisans (formerly Flower Girls), Knitting in the Spirit, Greenhouse, Book Nook, and Every Thursday usually have a table. In past years we have showcased up to 50 artisans on the day.
Vendors set up their wares the day before and so we have a lot of value sitting at church. We have a security team that stay overnight taking care of all those valuables. Jerry Booth did it for a number of years, and our most recent team is Chris Hewitt and his dad.
Mary Barnett had run the vendors for about 10 years before Jan Speakman took over in 2020.
Another MVUC group to offer their talents to Holiday Shop is the Quilters. Some of the early day members were Pat Maddox, Sue Ringwalt, Pat Krogh, and Betty Baran, as well as others like Lillian Fisher, who also taught the ladies dried flower skills, and Helene Kowalski who brought skills of stitchery designs to the quilts.
The quilters have been making a quilt to raffle every year since 1970. Their 1977 Batik Blue, a blue and green batik quilt, won a Woodlawn competition. Yes, the batik fabric was made by them as well – wax, dye, repeat. Quilts were adorned with members names in embroidery along the inside hem but are now on a patch sewn to the reverse side.
Another notable quilt called Starry Illusions, which had a smoky upper left, a bright red upper right and gave the appearance of looking down upon skyscrapers, was in 2001. The year of the twin towers disaster! It made them pause but it was in fact one of the highest earners for them.
We Relish the Country Kitchen
From the early 1960’s baked goods have been a staple at Holiday Shop. The Every Thursday group start getting ready in summer packing dried bean soup mixes, baking and canning. Originally all manner of items was baked but it eventually was culled to include the most popular items. Other baked goods come in from members of the congregation either fresh or frozen on the morning of.
The first chutney was a melon chutney. Of course, chutney was not known at all so they blindly followed the recipe hoping for a good batch. It seemed to just become waterier as time went on. Then they thickened it but they knew it was never going to be chutney! They are innovative though and sold it as ham glaze!
The history of the chutneys cooked now are as flavorful as the chutneys themselves. The French Pear Chutney derived its name because the recipe was in a French cookbook but the pears came from a neighbor who gave the ladies the okay to use as many pears from her tree as they needed. When that source dried up they used a church members pear tree but alas no more. Now all our raw ingredients are purchased.
Doc White’s chutney really is from Doc White’s mother who passed the recipe to Doc who passed it to Pat Jackson and it’s been sold ever since.
For many years they made true German Honey Cake gingerbread houses from Marge Duel’s recipe. Hank Duel would decorate them. The decorating increased the price leaving some unsold at the end of the day hence the decision to sell some decorated and some plain. It worked – they sold out before lunch. A good selling item required a new plan so they baked the slabs and stored them in the basement until Holiday Shop week but the mice got there first. They were then stored at a home but the gingerbread houses are now no longer made.
In 1994 a cookbook was produced that includes some of the favorites past and present. There remains a number of copies of ‘A Hollin Hall Sampler’ for purchase. I have a few favorites like Dotty Ann McClelland’s Apricot Nut Bars and often make the Church Punch for events. Time honored recipes for sure!
Martha Dyckes took over running Country Kitchen in 2022 as Sandy Peterson retired from the position after about 10 years and many more years holding other roles.
Lunch is a Must
Mike Walker, who coordinates the Holiday Shop “luncheon” has been on the job for the past 37 years, though you would not know it with his starched and pressed chef’s linens. He got his start in 1985 when an eager telephone recruiter called his wife Laura and asked if she could do some baking or volunteer on Saturday during the Holiday Shop. Laura explained that she was 3 weeks from delivering a baby and that her husband “would be happy to volunteer.” On the appointed date, Mike reported to Holiday Shop General Director Pat Jackson who told him that he could help “park cars” with her husband Harry or “haul some boxes of cheese and chutney” for Karna Schwimmer from the Mansion basement. Whereas it was about 25 degrees outside, Walker, a beleaguered federal bureaucrat, chose the indoor spot and never left, advancing from box hauler, to sandwich making to soup making and ultimately becoming the lunch coordinator. “It has really become a well-oiled machine. We have A-list workers, including Ron Brandt who slices all the tomatoes.” Swiss cheese pies, a recipe borrowed from Swiss Air and Ethel Bovet, who made them from 1975-85, in their home passed the task to Linda Olson Peebles. Linda had the two major ET cooks help out. Karna Schwimmer made the crusts and Dotty Ann McClelland shredded and weighed the cheese for each pie. Linda was the first to make the pies in the new kitchen giving the vendors and shoppers a delicious aroma that lured them over to Lunch. In 1995 Linda passed the baton to Linda Jemison who held it for more than 25 years. Linda Jemison and her daughter, now the young mother of two, started their day at 4:30am. Last year, 2022, the pie franchise was taken over by Lisa Blair.
Featured for 60 years have been two signature soups: Calico Bean, a mixture of 15 different kinds of beans and Brown Rice & Lentil, a vegetarian selection. Mike makes the Lentil soup, usually 90 quarts and 100 quarts of the bean soup are made by a variety of individual “souper” cooks. Given the volume of soup we need, we rely on the time and generosity of many church members to create our specialty soups.
Our Holiday Shop luncheon was never intended as a “profit center.” Just a place to relax, visit with friends, enjoy a bite to eat….and hopefully return to shopping! Over the years, we have sold thousands of bowls of soup and hundreds of sandwiches. 2022 was our first year “al fresco” as we moved outdoors in our festive tent in the Hollin Hall Circle.
The original name given was Helene’s Attic because that is literally where the items came from. Helene Kowalsky being recently widowed, became lonely and found MVUC through an article in the Washington Post. Living nearby, she joined and instantly found her place among the Every Thursday ladies. Helene considered herself an artist and tried many mediums and loved to share her wares and treasures with the group.
After her sudden death her family offered the contents of her attic which were collections of lace, fabrics, sewing supplies and a large collection of gowns, beaded dresses, shawls, purses and other fanciful items of the day. The sale brought in a huge sum for Holiday Shop that year. The attic also housed Japanese lacquer boxes and other wares which were sold by consignment in Old Town.
Betty Davis took over this part of Holiday Shop some 15 years ago and upon her passing the Every Thursday ladies changed the name to Betty’s Boutique in her honor. Betty’s Boutique now sells unique household collectibles. Items are collected all year long and are then sorted and priced accordingly the week before Holiday Shop.
Ruth Ann MacCleery looks after Betty’s Boutique (15 years) with many more years under her belt participating in other ways.
Selling antique jewelry is relatively new, that is within the last 15 years, to Holiday Shop. Past leaders are Teri Bradley, Ruth Heinburg, and Mary Pendergrass. Carolyn Slenska, after assisting Mary for two years, took over in 2017.
Donated jewelry is cleaned, repaired and in some cases valued to be ready for sale. There has been the odd rather expensive piece that has turned up, one valued in the thousands.
The End of the Day and the Sunset Soiree
At 4pm on the Saturday vendors pay their fee, pack up and head home, all the tables are stripped and voila – the Commons and Chapel are ready for services in the morning. Over at Hollin Hall things are quickly rearranged to cater for the After Sale – a chance for the congregation to purchase leftovers. I always hope for more relish!
Back when the event was two shorter days the workers would all gather at Hunan Royale for dinner after the cleanup. There would be about 20 to 30 volunteers filling the private dining room.
When it was changed to one day but longer hours Karna Schwimmer and Jo Jackley would push a trolley full of goodies and wine out for all to share on the patio at about 5pm. Yet another tradition began and still continues today.
We need that little extra sustenance because we still have the Sunday After Sale to complete, and the final clean up where some items are stored and some are donated, and then we are DONE! Well, until next year anyway.
A Whole Church Event
This quote sums up the vision I get as I hear MVUC folks talking about Holiday Shop.
“The traditions became part of my own family story, as all of my kids were involved as children and teens. My daughters learned the arts of knitting, baking, chutney making, candy house building and decorating. My son bonded with the older guys learning about parking cars on the meadow! I, of course, watched with joy at the power of community working together!” Linda Olson Peebles 2023
Holiday Shop takes all of our Holy Hill community’s participation. Holiday Shop is a “whole church event” which makes it so much more than just a fundraiser! Little did Mike, Bev and Rosie know it would come to this after 60 years!
Thank you to all those who provided information for this article. Ruth Ann MacCleery offered archived notes from Bev Sutherland, Dotty Ann McClelland, Pat Jackson, Pat Maddox, and Pat Krogh. Memories provided by Linda Peebles. Memories provided by Wendy Montanari who also provided notes and added memories from Jan and Claire Chytilo. Nancy Barkume located the quilt photos, and Every Thursday group did their best to fill in the names. Mike Walker wrote the Lunch story. Edited by Karen Delmonico.