By Matthew Saari

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas throughout the village of Whitehall.

Village trustee Teresa Austin and husband Jim Austin brave chilly temperatures to decorate Riverside Veterans Memorial Park.

Volunteers and Christmas enthusiasts have been hitting the streets, arms loaded with lights, bows and garland to ensure their community reflects their holiday spirit.

“I’ve noticed a lot of houses are decorated already,” said town board member Stephanie Safka. “I think all and all, Whitehall’s going to look very good this year.”

Safka and her helpers spruced up the lamp posts in Skenesborough Park as well as the guardrails at the intersection of Skenesborough Drive and Poultney Street last week, despite frigid temperatures and blustery winds.

Just down the road, in Riverside Veterans Memorial Park, village board member Teresa Austin could be found, husband Jim Austin in tow, dedicating hours of their time to decorate that park, stringing up garland the entire length of the canal-side fence.

Ideas for village decorations began percolating back in October when Safka put out notice in an effort to organize the decorating.

“I just wanted to coordinate so we didn’t overlap,” she said.

Shortly thereafter, she paired with fellow Christmas enthusiast Teresa Austin, turning the effort into a joint village-town affair.

Following the decorating of the parks, the pair will set to work on making the joint village-town municipal center more festive.

Although Safka and Austin have been spearheading decorating efforts on behalf of the town and village respectively, that doesn’t mean other Whitehallers have been letting them shoulder the burden alone.

Aside from the private residences Safka mentioned, individuals and organizations are all pitching in to brighten Whitehall’s atmosphere.

Marge Mohn and Liz Robinson could be seen last Wednesday decorating lamp posts along South Williams Street.

During November’s village board meeting Suzi Chaplin announced that she and several like-minded individuals were going to form a Christmas committee.

“My husband Dave and I are usually the ones who put it on,” Chaplin said Monday. “This year the community decided to form the Holiday in the Park Committee.”

Chaplin will be continuing the Christmas tradition she started last year with a tree lighting to be held in the Skenesborough Riverside Park pavilion on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 5 p.m.

As a part of this tradition, Chaplin finds a local resident who is given the honor of turning the lights on. Last year’s guest of honor was Army Sgt. Dennis Downs and after a spirited debate with several associates, Chaplin settled on Fra and Cheryl Putorti for this year.

“It is an honor to have them light this year’s tree for us. I asked people to nominate the person I am going to pick to light the holiday tree in the park this year. What I was looking for is someone that when you say deserving, passionate, caring, always there to help, does right by the community, lifelong resident, give you the shirt off their back kind of person,” Chaplin said. “Maybe even someone who did something heroic this year that you think should be recognized. Who is that name that first comes to your mind? Someone said Fra and Cheryl and I said yes! They have done so much for this community I might even miss many of the things they have done when I do my speech.”

The committee added some features to this year’s ceremony, enlisting the aid of local Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts who have made a number of festive decorations for the park including trees, stars and a manger scene.

Additionally, Santa Claus is expected to drive down Skenesborough Drive on a fire truck.

Following the ceremony hot chocolate will be served and those gathered will join in singing Christmas carols.

“It was real nice and special when we did it last year,” Chaplin said.

The scouts will also be collecting food for the Whitehall Food Pantry which Chaplin said was a big success last year due to a number of winter birds dropping off food stuffs prior to flying to warmer climes.

Chaplin said the tree for this year’s ceremony was donated by Joel and Peggy Murphy.



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