By Joey McWilliams
BRYAN COUNTY – Magnolia Festival is going to have a spin-off in 2017, with the second big event to take place in the late fall.
The inaugural Magnolia Christmas Fest is set for Nov. 17-18 and will be held at the Choctaw Event Center.
Janet Reed, Executive Director of the Durant Area Chamber of Commerce, said the idea is something that has been talked about for a while.
“As you know, the Magnolia Festival is always the full weekend following Memorial Day,” Reed said. “And we always go back and do an analysis of what we could have done better, what we want to improve and how we want to move forward.
“James (Dry, DACC President) had actually been talking to me for the last three years about how we wish we could do something around the Christmas holiday. The Event Center is out here. We have such a great place to have this. It would be great to showcase our merchants in the downtown area, the different things that we have.”
But in 2017, something different came down the path that would bring more purpose to such an event. At this summer’s Magnolia Fest, scholarships were given for students going into the field of education.
“Jon Hazell was actually instrumental in giving us the $5,000 (used for the scholarships), which was awarded to him through the Masonic Lodge, because he is the Teacher of the Year for Oklahoma,” Reed said. “Jon and I spent a lot of time working on what the scholarship would do, what he wanted to see from it and how we could grow it.
“There is a committee that is working on this. We have four people that are working to set criteria and they will be the ones that select from the applications. But the ultimate goal is to be able to endow the scholarship and to finance someone who will be in education and that agrees to stay in the area and teach in Oklahoma for four years.
“Of course, Jon’s goal is to try to improve education in the state of Oklahoma, and we’re losing great teachers, as everyone knows.”
Four scholarships in the amount of $1,250 each were given. The initial recipients of the Jon Hazell Magnolia Festival Scholarship were Daurah Amos, Lily Culver, Kylee Schreier and Adrain Tucker.
The ultimate goal is to have $24,000-$36,000 in the endowment fund to ensure the people selected for that scholarship will be able to have their entire tuition paid.
“I said, ‘James, we need to do something,’” Reed said. “And he said we’re going to do it and this is what we’re going to do.”
It was decided there would be a second Festival, which would have as a primary purpose to raise money for Jon Hazell Magnolia Festival Scholarship fund.
Reed said the Choctaw Senior Citizens would be a co-sponsor for the event and would take care of the concession area as a fundraiser for them. The larger portion of the monies that raised from booth space will be put back into the scholarship fund.
“Of course, the girls here (Katie Quinn, Chamber Manager and Jennifer Brewer, Administrative Assistant) worked diligently to move it all forward – they’re always one step ahead of me, I promise. But they were visiting with all the vendors at the Magnolia Festival and basically explaining to them that we were thinking about doing this and asked if they would come back.
“Everyone was excited about the possibility of being able to do it inside, where we’re not going to have to worry about whether it’s raining or snowing, it’s going to be nice and cozy inside that building. That was basically how we began to roll this out.”
Dry addressed the idea that there are more than 1,000 emergency certifications in Oklahoma for teachers.
“That’s how short we are for teachers in Oklahoma,” Dry said. “What better way for Jon Hazell to promote and encourage students to become teachers and to stay here. That’s why he’s Teacher of the Year.
“If we can help pay for their college tuition, so they don’t have debt to go into that profession, because it’s a profession they’re not going to get rich off of, that would be great because it’s so rewarding to educate our youth.
“It’s a great scholarship and something that we want to grow. And we couldn’t think of a better way to do it than to do an event in the fall pre-Christmas event. It’s another way to promote our downtown businesses as well, that are Chamber members and to get them to set up the booths out there and to promote their businesses. It’s all about the community and educating our youth.”
Reed said also that a requisite for the scholarship is that it is to be used at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
All four recipients of this year’s scholarships were incoming freshmen to SOSU and the committee will try to give four scholarships each year until the scholarship fund is endowed.
“We are in hopes that once the scholarship fund is endowed, which it will have to be $15,000 before it can be endowed, that as we continue to grow that we will be able to do at least two a year and cover all the tuition. With tuition where it is right now, that would be about $48,000. So we have a way to go.”
Applicants for the scholarship do not necessarily have to be high school seniors. Anyone can apply.
Dry said there was one big issue the committee determined before going further with the process.
“It was important to the committee that we put together to do this, and they’ve done a great job, was that it should be named for Jon Hazell,” Dry said.
The Durant Area Chamber of Commerce is encouraging people to save the dates and make plans to attend the first Magnolia Christmas Fest and Reed said she believes there will be many vendors there.
“With the schedule that we have, it’s very enticing for our vendors from the downtown area to come in and show what they’re going to have to showcase for Christmas,” Reed said. “And we’re going to give a very good discount for those who are members of the Chamber and of Main Street both.”
Vendors who would like to be involved should contact the Chamber at (580) 924-0848.