Winning  Toys To Brighten Children’s Lives At Christmas

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ANSONIA–On Saturday, Just days shy of his 100th birthday, Harry Niswonger won the top prize in the adult division at the annual Ansonia Lumber Company’s Wooden Toy Contest.

Harry Niswonger sits quietly at the Ansonia Lumber Company’s Wooden Toy Contest just minutes before his entry was awarded a first-place honor. He turns 100 on Thursday. (Linda Moody photo)

It is not the first time he has won the contest, but his entry, a crane and pull grasshopper, captured Judge Scott Phillips’ eye this year.

Second place in the adult division went to Jerry Pence with his city, road, truck, and cars display; third to John Burnett with his tank chest; fourth to Kenny Pence with his rocking plane; and fifth to Joe Reichert with his table and chairs.
Scott Phillips is flanked here by the first- and second-place winners in the Wooden Toy Contest. On the left is Jonathan Shepherd with his castle and Benjamin Shepherd with his plane.

In the youth division, Jonathan Shepherd placed first with his castle, while his brother, Benjamin, came in second with his plane. The other three winners were siblings from Defiance, with their entries brought to the contest by their grandparents, Roger and Cathy Leining of Yorkshire. Griffin Frey placed third with a zigzag rod and wobble cars; Gavin Frey fourth with Spot the Target game; and Owen Frey fifth with a hook and ring.

Phillips pointed out that his first personal favorite was Kenny Pence’s rocking place, and his second was the logging truck entered by Neal Plieman. However, the judge did explain he based his final results on how the gifts would appeal to the children who will be receiving them.

The toys that were judged on Saturday will be donated to Gateway Youth Program’s Adopt-A-Child.

Adult winners in Ansonia’s Wooden Toy Contest this year are, seated from left, Ken Pence, fourth; Harry Niswonger, first; John Burnett, third, and son Ryan; and, back row, Joe Reichert, fifth; Jerry Pence, second; and Judge Scott Phillips. (Linda Moody photo)

Additional contestants in the adult division were Rich and Jim Hampshire, Neal Pleiman, Mark Bruns, Neal Burns, Tom Warner, Layla Warner, Donald Pearson, Cathy Liening, Brad Lentz, Mitch McCabe, Earl Goewert, and Allen Cox.

Another competitor in the youth class was Wyatt Warner.
Additional toys that were featured Saturday included a locomotive, Lincoln Logs, a spinning
wheel, log truck, truck, a few skid loaders, rubber band gun, jewelry box, doll and cradle, blocks, building blocks, truck and mower, and a car.
Tom Warner, a local contractor, also brought to the event some toys that carpentry and engineering students at Greenville High School made last year.
In his first time entering the toy contest and the first time he had ever worked on such a project, Jerry Pence got second place with his display of a city, road, trucks, and cars. (Linda Moody photo)

“We did our own contest in class,” Warner told the crowd. “I had them build something for somebody else. These are not part of this contest, but I’ll donate them to the cause.”

Each winner received prizes for their achievements, and all contestants received a laser-engraved square for the contest’s 30th anniversary.

Frank Miller Hardwood Outlet, out of Union City, Ind., once again donated lumber to all of the contestants and has been doing that from the start. Darren Hiatt spoke briefly on the family-owned sawmill.

Here is a close-up of the rocking plane made by Kenny Pence, the fourth-place winner. (Linda Moody photo)

Judge Scott Phillips of PBS’s “The American Woodshop” was a little late getting to the contest Saturday, but he explained that he had pneumonia a couple of weeks ago, lost a lot of sleep, and had overslept that morning. But, as always, he kept the audience’s attention by doing what he always does, entertaining and sharing his knowledge on the history of the toys.

In reviewing the 30th anniversary of the competition, Mitch McCabe noted that it started at Flaig Lumber in New Madison when he worked there, and he carried the idea with him when he joined the team at Ansonia Lumber.
“The first year, we had nine contestants,” McCabe said. “Joe Coning won with a train. It was amazing.”
Various plaques were handed out to those making this event possible, including McCabe and Phillips.
Here, Mitch McCabe, left, honors Scott Phillips, who has judged most of the contests held at the Ansonia Lumber Company regarding the Wooden Toy Contest, with a wooden plaque. (Linda Moody photo)

Phillips has been judging these events all those years, with the exception of one when he was involved in a traffic accident en route to Ansonia one year due to snow. He said he doesn’t judge any other contests except for this one.

“This is heaven right here,” he said.

John Burnett holds up the framed photograph of Ken Pence, who was among the five oldest Darke County veterans during their visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. recently. Pence was chosen to lay the wreath and Burnett awarded it to him at the contest. People were encouraged to sign it. (Linda Moody photo)

In another feature at the contest, contestant John Burnett held up a photograph in a frame he had created. It was taken at the Darke County Veterans Services’ annual trip recently to Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. The photo showed where Ken Pence, another toy maker, at age 93, was the eldest of four Darke County veterans to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a special ceremony in Washington, D.C., several weeks ago.

Burnett, who was also on that trip, dedicated it to Pence. Also, there were Tom Pitman, director of the Veterans Services of Darke County, and Gaylen Blosser, editor of My County Link, who took the picture.

“It was a solemn ceremony,” said Burnett. “We are doing this for Kenny’s continued involvement in the annual toy contest.”
At the conclusion of the contest, Phillips announced that he is planning on retiring from The American Woodshop in the near future.
His plans are to write a book and perhaps purchase land and build a Stonehenge and make the area available to such groups as the Boy Scouts.