The holiday season comes but once a year for most. But for Carolyn Snyder, on January 1, it's only just beginning. By March, she is already knee deep in wreaths, thousands of yards of garland and ornaments of all shapes, colors and sizes for crafts that will go on sale at the Holiday Festival Boutique.
"We attend the first ordering shows in January and March to find out what the holiday decorating trends are for the year," she said. "If we don't make our big orders by spring, it's too late."
For the average 74-year-old grandmother who is not employed as one of Santa's elves, her dedication to the holiday season might seem extreme. But for Snyder, who first began working on Torrance Memorial's Holiday Festival 27 years ago, it's a way of life. Snyder is in charge of the tree decorations. She and Festival co-chair Bev George jointly work on the boutique. "Once I got involved I was hooked," Snyder said. "I've traveled all over the country by motor home, but when I'm away, I can't wait to get back and work on the festival."
"The volunteers are phenomenal. I've met the kind of friends I will keep forever," she continued.
Snyder has co-chaired the Holiday Festival on and off since its second year. During its first years, it was called "Festival of the Trees." The very first festival took place in the hospital's basement. The following year it moved into a tent on the hospital campus. "We had such heavy rain and wind that year that the fire department had to use fire trucks to hold the tent down," she said.
"One year the generator we were using fried all of the tree lights," she continued. "We worked overnight and until 4:30 the following afternoon to get back up and running again." Many of the volunteers who worked on the first festivals are still volunteering but the group's numbers have grown to upwards of 250 who work on festival preparations throughout the year, and 300 during festival week. Included are four generations of Snyder's own family. Through the years, she's recruited her parents, in-laws and all of her grandchildren (except for two who live out of state), some starting as young as 2-years-old. "By 7- or 8-years old they are decorating trees all by themselves," she said. Adding to the festival frenzy, Snyder and the volunteers have helped to usher in future generations of festival volunteers whom Snyder affectionately calls "festival babies."
"Most of the festival co-chairs have had a grandchild born at Torrance Memorial during festival week. It happens every year," she said with a laugh. Snyder's brother Ray O'Dell has also served as facilities chair for the last five years. O'Dell is credited with building Santa's Sleigh, used for photo opportunities with Santa.
Snyder pinches herself when she thinks about how the festival has grown from a small community fundraiser to one of the city's largest annual events. She credits the continued support of the volunteers and members of the community who donate their time and resources to design and decorate the 32 uniquely themed festival trees displayed for sale and auction.
"There are so many wonderfully designed trees and loyal supporters who continue to help year after year," she said. "The volunteers are not paid accept for the rewards they reap in helping and making a difference. We simply couldn't do it without them."