Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 2, 2013

Senior Focus: Family snowman-building event

As a child growing up in northern Michigan, I can remember waking up to the first major snowfall of the winter. Besides the anticipation of skiing and sledding, I looked forward to building the first snowman of the season. What child (or parent, for that matter) doesn't get excited about building a snowman?

In my family, building a snowman was normally a family affair. We once made a giant snowman that was as tall as the edge of our house roof, but that was when the snow was so high we dug tunnels to walk to the house next door.

In our northern hemisphere, many consider snowmen to be a symbol of the winter season. They often appear on Christmas cards and on front lawns for those passing by to see.

Documentation of the first snowman is unclear. Bob Eckstein, author of "The History of the Snowman," found old diaries and chronicles that date the activity back to at least the Middle Ages. It was a time in Europe when every new snowfall would find townsfolk making snowmen in the streets. So the fun of building a snowman has been around for a very long time.

To bring that excitement to the area, the Senior Center Network and Compassionate Care Home Health Services are sponsoring a family snowman-building contest on Feb. 16 at the Traverse City Senior Center. You're never too old or too young to build a snowman — all ages are welcome to compete in this community event.

"It's an excellent way to get off the couch and have some family fun," said Nan Hauffe, in community relations with Compassionate Care Home Health Services.

In Europe and North America, most snowmen were usually built with three spheres, which contained the head, torso and lower body. Some snowmen have been made using tips from the popular Christmas song, "Frosty The Snowman." The common trend was to dress the snowman, usually with rocks or coal (we got ours from the coal bin in the basement) for the buttons or eyes, wood sticks for the arms and a carrot for the nose. An old scarf was tied around the snowman's neck and a hat placed on its head.

For the Senior Center event, teams of two people or more compete for $25 gift cards in several categories, including tallest, most unique, most traditional, best accessories and best use of color. One talented team will win a $100 Meijer gift card for the "Best in Show" snowman. All prizes will be provided by Compassionate Care. However, teams must provide their own buckets, shovels and decorating material.

One of the judges is Charles Murphy, well-known local artist and watercolor instructor for the Senior Center Network. He brings an artist's eye to the contest, so think creatively and your team just might get the biggest prize. The other celebrity judges are Jeff Hallberg from Primetime News and Bill Marsh Jr. from Bill Marsh Auto.

The public is invited to this family-friendly event to watch the contest and take photographs with all of the finished snowmen. The Senior Center will also have a warming station with complimentary hot chocolate and coffee.

As part of the event, $5 donations and nonperishable food items are being collected for the Northwest Food Coalition.

Teams must be registered to participate by Feb. 15. Event Duration is 1-4 p.m.; Team Check-in noon-1 p.m.; Building 1-3 p.m.; Judging 3-3:30 p.m.; and Awards 3:30 p.m.

Put on your warm winter clothes, bring your ideas and we'll see you and your team on Feb. 16 at the Traverse City Senior Center to compete in the first snowman-building contest.

For more information or questions, please call 922-4911 or email

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to

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