|Members working the Czech and Slovak bakery in the Village of Ashley.|
Christmas is a magical time of year, and it's made even more magical in the small Village of Ashley, located near Bannister, MI. For the past few years, a Pere Marquette 1225 steam engine, the same engine that inspired and made sound effects for The Polar Express movie, has come to visit the small community of 550 people. The movie inspires the residents to create a 1940's atmosphere for visitors that come in on the train for five weekends during the Village of Ashley Community Christmas. It's common to see children dress in their pajamas, like the movie, and adults in the fashions of the era. It's a community event that different kind of local groups like to be involved in.
The members of Michigan No. 225 have been involved with this little Christmas town for three years. They were asked to utilize the township hall to create a permanent store feeling.
Diane Bradley helped create the unique historical feel with decorations, including glassware, that are reminiscent of an old Czech village bakery and store.
|Gary and Meggan Andrews dressed up as the devil and the angel. Thomas Bradley Sr. dressed up as Mikuláš on Saint Nicholas Day.|
The members of No. 225 also have a hand in creating an experience that many visitors have said "is just like Grandma used to make!" Member Joanne Fornusek took care of buying the ingredients, planning, and scheduling members to take shifts on the weekend. Every week for five weeks during the holidays, members and other people from the community gathered on Wednesday to prepare the dough for traditional rohlicky, tiny powdered sugar rohlicky, cream wafers, nut cups, and long rolls. On Thursdays they baked. While preparing the goods, the members enjoyed being together and visiting.
On Friday, the train would make its first visit to Ashley and the bakery. Around 900 guests would swell into the town with each train visit, which totaled four visits over the course of the weekend.
|Members prepare rohlicky.|
No. 225 members volunteered their time to work the Czech and Slovak bakery on the weekends. Over 1,800 hours are volunteered every year. "It was very enjoyable to see their smiles. Some people come every year just to be certain they could enjoy the experience again," Diane Bradley commented.
"It was really nice to meet people from so many places and talk about ancestry, sharing ideas, and experiences. I've met people from all around the world and the children really enjoy it too," Bradley added. The bakery is able to cover its costs, and then, give back to the community.
In 2015, they decided to support the restoration of the township hall. Western Fraternal Life approved a Community Matching Fund to assist in this project.
|The restored post office.|
During the use of the building in recent years, they discovered pieces of the old post office, such as the service windows. It was restored, and is now used as part of the Country Christmas.
Last year, members Ed Fornusek and Bob Ladiski, both retired postal workers, dressed up to work the old post office. They took letters from the children, and stamped them for the North Pole. They also gave out seasonal coloring pages while parents took photos. After the season is over, the letters are given to Macy's, which will donate $1 for every letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There were over 1,000 letters last year.
No. 225 and the community plan to keep doing their bakery during the holiday season. For more information on the Village of Ashley Country Christmas, visit the website at www.ashleyvillage.org.
Call 877-935-2467 to speak with a Western Fraternal Life Representative.