Carlisle’s Old Home Day needs new blood

by Karina Coombs

Dave and Florence Reed have steered Old Home Day for 40 years.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

While temperatures remain cold and snow and ice blanket all that is green, warm summer days are not too far off. With this in mind the Carlisle Old Home Day Association is beginning to ramp up preparations for Old Home Day (OHD) 2014, but with the awareness they are losing one if not two events this year. The group is also putting out a call for volunteers to help not only with this year’s celebration, but to ensure there are enough volunteers to continue the much loved event.

A New England tradition

Old Home Day is a unique New England tradition that began in the late 19th century.  Small communities saw their children moving off to cities for employment opportunities and leaving family farms behind. Facing budget shortfalls and shrinking towns, New Hampshire Governor Frank Rollins called for the creation of an Old Home Week. The event was to bring adults back to their childhood homes to reunite with friends and family and provide funds to help revitalize their communities. The first event was held in that state in 1899 and many towns and states would soon follow with events of their own.

The Carlisle Old Home Day Association

Carlisle’s first OHD was in 1912 and from the very beginning has been organized by residents who volunteer hundreds of hours planning and running two days of events for friends, family and neighbors. The Carlisle Old Home Day Association was created in 1913 and now operates as a registered non-profit organization. As its charter, the association is required to support Carlisle as a charitable organization and to support its educational needs, which it does in the form of scholarships awarded to graduating high school seniors each summer. 

Being a non-profit also precludes the committee from getting involved in political activities, which is why the group has not and will not allow political groups or individuals to take part in the event. The association is comprised of a chair or co-chairs that run the event itself as well as chairs to organize and run each of the 13 activities that are typically offered.

OHD was not regularly held during its early years, but has been an annual event since the mid-1970s. While its popularity has not dipped, the number of volunteers supporting OHD has and threatens to fundamentally change the event. “What we’re facing for next year is do we have an Old Home Day in 2015?” asked current co-chair Dave Reed. Dave and his wife Florence have been involved with OHD in one way or another for the past 40 years. Even when not co-chairing the event, the Reeds handle the bookkeeping and filing required of a non-profit and Dave also hosts and maintains the group’s website among other tasks. 

The Reeds dive in

After Dave’s distinguished career with NASA as a mission control launch specialist for the Apollo program, the Reeds settled in Carlisle in June 1973 and discovered a very welcoming community in the woods. Cookie-bearing neighbors soon came calling to meet the couple and immediately asked about help with OHD. “Welcome to the community. Would you like to be involved in Old Home Day?” recounted a smiling Florence. She was also asked if she would help to bake a cake for the cake walk. To which Florence asked Dave, after the neighbors had left, “What is a cake walk?”

The Reeds took up their neighbors’ challenge and dove in. As both new residents and working professionals, the Reeds’ volunteerism gave them an opportunity to become involved with the town and make new friends. They first co-chaired the event in the late 1970s and for a number of years in both the 1980s and 1990s until they ran it consecutively from 2004-2012. 

Introducing new things, keeping the old

In addition to co-chairing, the Reeds also introduced new OHD events, brought fireworks to town on two occasions (which required Dave to get certification to be on the field with the aerial shells, this after launching Saturn V rockets), and raised money, directed, edited and narrated a documentary of OHD 2005. 

Despite retiring from the committee in 2012 and receiving a citation for their efforts, the Reeds find themselves once again stepping into the role of co-chairs to make sure the tradition continues. Michael Jackson, the Reeds’ neighbor, took over as Chairman of OHD in 2013, but is unable to continue in that position due to a heavier work load.

Trying to retain the small town charm

“It’s a snapshot in time,” explained Florence of OHD, “a safe atmosphere.” The Reeds have attended a number of OHD celebrations throughout New England and are quick to point out that Carlisle is one of the few to retain its small town charm. They are determined to keep it that way. “I want this old fashioned feeling,” explained Dave. As a nod to a bygone era, absent are carnival rides and the vendors that accompany them. Instead, following a morning of road races, a complimentary pancake breakfast and a parade, attendees will find contests involving frog jumping and corn shucking. Art, pets, pie baking and cake decorating are judged. 

Jason Reed has attended Old Home Day sincehe was a tot. (Courtesy photo)

Jason Reed has attended Old Home Day since he was a tot. (Courtesy photo)

Proving OHD is a family affair for the Reeds, their son, Jason, returns to Carlisle each summer to run the children’s games because of his own fond childhood memories of the event. (Hanging in the family home, as a testament to this, is a framed photo of Jason as a toddler, asleep in a stroller festooned with an Old Home Day balloon.) The games, held on the common, include an egg toss, three-legged race and sack race, the latter two features of the very first OHD celebrations. According to Dave, a shortage of eggs for the egg toss game one year, led a family living across from the common to donate their own eggs, completely unsolicited and gratefully received.

New volunteers needed

Many of the volunteers currently involved with OHD have given their time and energy for a very long time and have done so because they enjoy it. At some point however, no matter how dedicated, people get tired and want to finally enjoy the festivities as an attendee, explained Florence. “We need new blood and fresh ideas,” added Dave. 

Volunteers run each of the 13 OHD events, from the ice cream social to the cake walk, and more are needed to keep events running this year and beyond. “What would you do if the [parade co-chairs] left?” asked Dave hypothetically. Not in question is the absence of the dunk tank for 2014. Dave explained the couple who provided and ran the dunk booth for many years would not be returning. The soapbox derby may also be absent this year, in need of a chair and suffering from a decrease in participation. 

A larger concern for the Reeds is OHD 2015 and the continued presence of the country fair, in danger of being discontinued when the chair steps down. This concerns the couple because they see the fair as a central part of the main events, providing crowds for the events on the green, the library’s used book sale and the Boy Scout’s BBQ lunch. Dave explained that while the country fair is the biggest of the events to set up for, they receive help from the DPW who comes in the day before and sets up all the booths. Additional volunteers wrap the structures with bunting and Tyvek for waterproofing. High school students are often recruited for this work, which allows them to fulfill their community service requirement. 

Fundraising is also crucial to the longevity of OHD, as it does not receive any money from the town or state. Instead, all funds necessary to operate OHD are from tax-deductible contributions or percentages of sales from the Boy Scout BBQ, the Firemen’s BBQ and the Gleason Used Book Sale. The scholarship program is paid for solely from the money collected from the 13 volunteer-led activities.

How you can help

Meetings for OHD will begin in late February or early March and will meet once per month at the home of the Reeds with Florence providing the cookies. A theme for the next OHD will be decided upon in the next few months. In September a wrap-up meeting is held and the group parts company until the following year. “We say, ‘I love you. See you next year!’” explained Florence. In addition to meeting new people and enjoying Florence’s cookies, OHD volunteers will get to participate in a unique part of the region’s history and continue to welcome home Carlisle residents near and far. 

For more information on financial contributions or volunteering for OHD, you can visit the Carlisle Old Home Association website: Select the “Get in Touch” link to contact via email.   ∆