Ansonia Lumber holds 30th annual toy contest


By Ryan Berry

ANSONIA — Ansonia Lumber held the 30th annual wooden toy contest with Scott Phillips of the American Woodshop judging. The contest began three decades ago at Flaig Lumber and has been organized by Mitch McCabe since its beginning. All of the handmade wooden toys are donated to children in the community. Gateway Youth Programs will help distribute the toys this year.

Some of the woodcrafters that contributed toys have been doing so for nearly the entire length of the contest. One of those woodcrafters and this year’s winner in the adult contest is Harry Niswonger. Niswonger turned 99 years old the week after the contest. His contribution was a wooden crane. When Phillips first saw Niswonger’s project, without looking to see who created the piece, he said, “Geemenee Harry, will you cut it out. Harry did this. You make it awful hard on the other people here.”

As Phillips continued to look at the table, he remarked, “This is the hardest thing I do every year. It’s just impossible.”

John Burnett and Kenny Pence are also regular contributors to the contest. Burnett made a beautiful toy box complete with remote control tanks and a track for the tanks. Pence made a rocking airplane that is sure to be enjoyed by a smaller child. Burnett’s project finished third and Pence finished fourth.

Jerry Pence, son of Kenny Pence, was a first-time contributor to the contest and took home second place. Jerry made a little village that included a six-story hospital, police station and other structures with painted streets. Several Hot Wheel cars were also included. Jerry admitted he hadn’t built a box since high school. Phillips said that Kenny rubbed off on him. “Way to go. That’s a homerun,” said Phillips. This was Jerry’s first attempt at making a wooden city. “This is what blows me away. This is the first one he’s ever made and he’s giving it away,” said Phillips.

Phillips was also impressed with many of the toys that didn’t win. He encouraged the woodworkers to keep doing it. Because of his many years of creating woodworking pieces, Phillips said he knows how long it takes to create some of these items.

Joe Reichert, also one of the newer woodworkers to enter, took fifth place with his table and chair set. After looking at several toys trying to figure out the fifth-place winner, Phillips flipped the table over and immediately declared Reichert’s entry the winner. He pointed to the fact the bottom of the table was sanded and finished which pointed to Reichert not taking any shortcuts.

In the youth division, it was a couple sets of family members that took the top spots. Jonathan Sheperd took first place with his wooden castle. Phillips marveled at the realism of the castle and the painting that made it look like real bricks on the outside of the castle.

Benjamin Sheperd took second place with his World War II era spitfire plane. Phillips shared the only thing that would have made it better is if the propeller turned and there was landing gear.

Phillips was impressed with the zig zag road and wobble cars created by Griffin Frey. Griffin’s grandmother pointed out that Griffin was five years old and cut out the cars.

Gavin Frey won third place with his spot the target game. Phillips said the instructions on the game helped determine its placing. The instructions specifically stated the bean bags should not be thrown at your sister.

Finishing out the youth division in fifth place was Owen Frey and his hook-it ring toss game.

There were plenty of other toys in the youth division that were not eligible for judging. Tom Warner brought several toys from his construction tech class. His lesson for this project was to “give unto others.” He said he encouraged his students to “Build something, not for self, but for others.” He explained that before taking his class, most of his students had never touched a power tool.

In the adult division, the prizes were first place – Case knife with name engraved on the knife and case; second place – $100 gift card for Ansonia Lumber; third place – drill bits; fourth place – spade bits and precision square; and fifth place – bar clamps. In the youth division, the prizes were first place – Bosch router; second place – Dremel set; third place – Bosch orbital sander; fourth place – spade bits and precision square; and fifth place – dovetail saw and block plane.

There were 17 adults and six youth that submitted entries into the contest. In total, 27 toys will be donated to the Gateway Youth Program. In their first year, McCabe said they had nine contestants and had no idea what kind of toys they’d get.

Frank Miller Lumber has been a huge supporter of the contest and once again provided lumber to all of the contestants.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary, Ansonia Lumber honored McCabe and Phillips with plaques recognizing the milestone.

To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].

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