By Travis Gulbrandson
The W. H. Over Museum’s 47th annual Christmas Festival was a big success, with hundreds of area visitors coming to check out the vendors, watch performances by local dancers and meet with Santa Claus.
The festivities took place Sunday, Dec. 8, from 1 to 4:30 p.m.
Maxine Johnson, president of the museum’s board of directors, said the Christmas Festival draws approximately 500 to 600 visitors each year.
“It’s a good start to the Christmas season,” Johnson said. “(Visitors) get a little entertainment, they get an early start on Christmas shopping.
“We like to have them come because although this museum has been in existence for more than 100 years, a lot of people simply don’t know it’s in Vermillion,” she said. “When we have this, we get people inside the doors, sometimes for the first time. If we get them once, we get them back.”
Some of the big draws were the 42 tables of vendors – most of which come from outside of Vermillion – that were placed throughout the museum.
One of those vendors was Roger Leff of Sioux City’s Flowers by Roger, who was selling silk flower arrangements.
“I’ve been coming here for a number of years,” Leff said. “Same spot, same place. It’s very good.”
“It’s always different, and our vendors are very good about bringing new things and doing different things,” Johnson said. “We try to keep it open-ended, and if somebody wants to come, we try to find room for them. We don’t tell anybody they can’t come. We love to have a variety of people.”
Leff said he thinks it’s that variety that keeps people coming back year after year.
“Almost everything is handmade,” he said. “A lot of places you go, they have Avon and things like that. This is craft (oriented), things that people make.”
Another table among the vendors was helmed by the Tiospaye Student Council, the Native American student group from the University of South Dakota.
The students spent the afternoon selling T-shirts, wojapi and fry bread.
“We’re fundraising for the powwow and other events that we do on campus, and we’re supporting the museum,” said USD student Aspen Ducheneaux. “We’ve sold quite a few things, and hopefully there’s a good turnout for everybody.”
Johnson said the museum is always open to new potential vendors for upcoming festivals, as well as vendors who deal in specific products.
“One thing that we really miss is, we used to have a group of people come down from Yankton making lefse, and they’ve aged out of wanting to do that,” she said. “We’ve had at least four or five inquiries today, so if anybody in the Vermillion area likes to make lefse, they’re welcome to come and set up a lefse factory. We’d love to have them.”
Sunday wasn’t only about vendors, though. Visitors were treated to an afternoon of performances from the Vermillion Area Dance Organization and others, featuring groups of dancers, cloggers and baton-twirlers of various ages.
The afternoon also coincided with the unveiling of two new Native American exhibits at the museum. One dealt with commodities distribution, and the other with Native American boarding schools.
“That’s completely done by the USD students,” Johnson said. “Dr. Bradley’s class met here all last semester, and they built those exhibits during that time. They did a really good job. We’re very proud of that.”
Of course, being the Christmas season, there were also plenty of decorations, including many trees that were decorated by area groups and individuals.
There also was a tall Christmas tree in the lobby of the museum.
The lobby also served as de facto headquarters for Santa Claus himself, who spent the afternoon handing out candy canes and having his picture taken with visiting children.
All the activities made things a bit crowded at times.
“There are a lot of people that showed up,” Ducheneaux said. “I was surprised at the turnout, and I’m glad that Vermillion is supporting the museum.”
Johnson said the museum sees the festival as “kind of a Christmas gift to the community.”
“We thoroughly enjoy doing it, and we like to see it grow,” she said.
For more information about the W. H. Over Museum, visit http://www.whovermuseum.org/.