ANSONIA — When Pixar Films released its first feature film Toy Story in 1995, one character captured both our hearts and memories. Woody, the antique pull-string sheriff, with his small golden badge shining on a cowhide vest and quiet smile painted on his wooden face, invites us to remember that well-made toys, crafted by skilled hands and cherished by little ones, can last well beyond a season, becoming heirlooms enjoyed for generations.
For woodworkers all over the world, creating heirloom quality toys (like Woody), that look flawless but are still fun to play with, is a worthy and rewarding challenge. For 27 years, Darke County residents have enjoyed seeing and hearing a different kind of “toy story” each year in Ansonia, and admiring the talent, skill and creativity of our neighbors, family and friends.
Ansonia Lumber, located at 300 Main Street in Ansonia, has sponsored the annual Wooden Toy Contest each year since 1993, inviting both youth and adult members from the Darke County community to design and build toys which would be judged on their precision, detail, craftsmanship, and the overall “fun” of the toy, itself.
“It was started as a way to help under privileged children at Christmas time and a way to show case some of the local woodworking talent and to inspire them to take part in it,” said Mitch McCabe, Sales and Marketing Manager for Ansonia Lumber. Last year, Ansonia added a youth competition to encourage youth to participate in the fun and excitement of this annual event.
Scott Phillips, host of the popular PBS series, American Woodshop has been the Ansonia Lumber Wooden Toy Contest’s expert judge throughout the years, making the annual competition a revered holiday event for toy makers of all ages. As he stated last year, “I will never see such quality of work. It’s spectacular. This is the reason I come here…to play and have fun. Men don’t want socks and shoes, they want toys. Of all the places on earth, this is Christmas to me.”
McCabe met Phillips 28 years ago through a mutual friend, taking his son to watch Phillips film an episode of his show, and invited him to participate the contest as its judge. Since then, each year (with the exception of one), Phillips has brought his expertise, enthusiasm and love of the craft to Ansonia’s contest, delighting Darke County residents with his quick wit and fun commentary.
This year, due to COVID-19, the contest judging, which is usually held live, with 50 or 60 spectators in the store, moved to virtual platform through ZOOM. Phillips judged 37 adult entries and nine youth entries from his home, while Mitch McCabe described each toy in detail, demonstrating its operation and function. The winners were then announced December 19, 2020, on Ansonia Lumber’s website and Facebook Page. A total of 22 contestants participated in the contest overall.
The 1st place adult division winner was Harry Niswonger, who created a replica of a Working Crane, and was awarded a $50 Ansonia Lumber Gift Certificate and a Case Knife with Gift Box; the 2nd place winner was John Burnett for his Toy Box, who was awarded a $100 Gift Certificate from Ansonia Lumber; the 3rd place winner was Neal Pleiman for his playful Table and Chairs with Ducks, who was awarded Baltic Birch plywood; the 4th place winner was Gerald Brehm for his replica Doll Houses, who was awarded Baltic Birch plywood; and the 5th place winner was Ken Pence for his innovative Rocking Airplane, who was awarded Baltic Birch plywood.
The 1st place youth division winner was Owen Marker, who created realistic Rocking Horse with Battle Gear, and was awarded a Milwaukee 12-volt drill; the 2nd place winner was Luke Marker for his Rocking Horse & Rubber Band Rifle, who was awarded a Dremel multi-tool; the 3rd place winner was Hunter Farmer for his Rocking Horse, who was awarded an Orbital sander; and the 4th place winner was Max Lentz for his Craft Caddy, who was awarded a Kreg jig.
While the annual Wooden Toy Contest has benefited different organizations in the past, this year’s toys were donated to Operation Christmas Cheer’s toy drive for families in Darke County. Many thanks to this year’s participants and winners, and we will look forward to seeing what new toys will be in Santa’s bag next year!
For more information about Ansonia Lumber or the annual Wooden Toy Contest, go to www.ansonialumber.com or call Mitch McCabe, Sales and Marketing Manager, at 937-337-3111. To watch Scott Phillips on PBS’ American Woodshop, visit online at www.pbs.org/show/american-woodshop/, or visit Scott’s Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/theamericanwoodshop .