Halloween is like Anchovy Pizza. You love it or hate it. Loren Schmalle loves it.
He’s one of those UBER parents who every year steps up and does the impossible—he mounts a massive Halloween Festival at our local public school. The mantle was handed down to him from Kurt Bierschenk, his Halloween mentor
and fellow Halloween enthusiast. Kurt was the original brain child of the festival and Loren says it would be nothing without his mad genius. Neither man ever got a penny for all their hard work. It is a true labor of love. All the moneys collected goes towards the much starved school fund.
It was Kurt’s idea to build up the Halloween fever. Every Monday in October, there is a sighting at the school. One week, it’s a witch, crashed high up into the telephone pole. Another week it’s a stencil drawing of a black cat or a zombie, that miraculously appears on the school pavement. Next up, a bubble machine is hung at the entrance to the school, spouting off enormous, soapy bubbles. The kids go nuts. Loren and his co-chair, Geoff Grant, get a buzz from the build-up.
Loren spends more than eighty hours of man-power. He begins preparation for the Halloween Bonanza the very first day school begins. Loren is out there, trying to solicit volunteers to help with this gargantuan project. Getting people to sign up is a daunting task. Parents are busy. But Loren is not shy. He bugs everybody. He is an equal opportunity nagger.
The next week he and Geoff are busy obtaining permits from LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District). Another dad pal, Marcus, who happens to be an attorney, helps him with all the paper work and red tape. There’s always red tape…
Every weekend before Halloween, Loren is at the school, starting the process of building a frame for this full build-out Halloween Haunted House. It is tradition for the fifth graders to be there helping out days before the festival. The Haunted House is specifically built for the fifth grade class fund. All proceeds go towards graduation and other necessities. It is the fifth graders who dress up like ghosts and dead people and spook out all the younger kids…and let’s be real, the parents too. There are a few different “tours” you can take: Not Spooky, A little Spooky, and “Holy Crap, I just pee’d in my pants” Spooky. You decide…
The Friday before the Sunday festivities, Loren rents a U-Truck and breaks dust, driving an hour to Underwood Farms to gather 250 corn husks, 70 pumpkins and 55 bales of hay. It is his vision alone to take the Halloween festival and marry it with a down-home country feel.
Geoff Grant, along with his wife, Sherri, organized all the how-to’s into a “Halloween bible’. They hope their teachings live on after they leave for middle school.
So much work for a one-day celebration. Why does he do it? Besides the obvious reason of the kids looking so forward to it and the fundraising aspect, Loren says that the Halloween Festival is a community builder. He reckons the festival bonds parents and kids to this fine public institution and that parents will ultimately give more to the school when they are directly involved.
Loren’s pointers to other parents who may want to start up a Halloween Festival in their own schools…start early. Give yourself ample time to “play” and conceive of clever ideas. Get the kids involved, is another helpful hint. Loren maintains the festival is like the fable “Stone Soup”; it begins with one person and then the fever hits. Lastly, Loren says, “Delegate….you need help. And once you have the routine down, write it down in a book to pass on to the next grasshopper”.
Loren Schmalle and Geoff Grant are one of a kind. But there are others who also give tirelessly. We need to acknowledge these selfless volunteers who make our little school run like a well-oiled machine. It’s so easy to just show up and take it all for granted.
Loren is promising free popcorn this year to everyone who comes in costume. Oh, heck yeah. My Honey Boo Boo outfit is newly pressed and ready to go.
About the author: Dani Shear blogs for FreshSchools, BabyNames and ModernMom. She’s also written for the Rules Of Hollywood column for the LA Times. Dani is a first time author, having just had her children’s book, The Foodie Club, published by Blackbird Books. Take a peek inside and check out the awesome reviews at http://www.amazon.com/Foodie-Club-Dani-Shear/dp/1610530276/. Dani is mom to two delicious daughters, Sydney, 10, and Sunny, 5 and her Labradoodle, Whiskey.