Sunday afternoon, Kelly Vorpahl of Fort Wayne was marveling at a replica of the environmental center at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School.
“They did everything exactly, with the little pond and the stone fireplace and the flagpole where they have the ceremonies,” she says, while recalling that her own Girl Scout and Boy Scout had often visited the site.
“Now, do they have the taxidermy inside?” she wondered aloud as she peered more closely at one of the scores of gingerbread structures that will remain on display until Dec. 9 during the 27th annual Festival of Gingerbread at Fort Wayne’s History Center.
Todd Pelfrey, history center executive director, said this year’s show has 102 entrants, down slightly from last year. But he said the quality of the entries is undiminished.
“They can be quite competitive, he said.
While, the environmental center created by Cub Scout Pack 3333 of Fort Wayne didn’t have interior features, many of the structures, ranging from simple to breathtakingly elaborate, did.
A cutaway of the Embassy Theatre at holiday time, with its balconies filled with decorated Christmas trees – won multiple awards for its creators, Fort Wayne’s Creative Confections Cake Club.
Club members fashioned more than 40 trees from icing in colors from green to blue and purple to take home the WANE Media Sponsor award, the Historical Theme prize for adults and second place in the adult group division.
A cutaway of a Spanish-style church filled with worshippers, a priest and a crucifix over the altar featured an explanation of the Mexican legend of the poinsettia, while a gingerbread whale with a hole cut in the side revealed a swallowed Jonah.
The see-through whale was one of several creations with biblical themes by Concordia Lutheran School students.
A replica of the Old Fort, constructed with pretzels for logs and Necco wafers for shingles and showing the interior rooms won third place for Victoria Etzeler of Van Wert in the division for third- to sixth-graders.
Some of the most elaborate structures had regional ties.
The gingerbread walls of a replica of the University of Saint Francis’ Bass Mansion decorated for Christmas well represented its actual brownstone exterior. Its creator, Larissa Johnson of New Haven, won top honors, in the teen age group and the historical theme contest in her age group.
The GM Title Sponsor award went to Girl Scout Troop 00226 of Fort Wayne, which competed in the division for pre-kindergarten to second grade and made a replica of Fort Wayne’s Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.
The youngsters included its triangularly shaped roofs decorated with butterflies peeking out of the ground and surrounded the building with dancing marshmallow snowmen. “We love the Botanical Conservatory,” the girls said in an accompanying handwritten note.
Pelfry said entrants’ work is evaluated by independent judges on originality, neatness and skill level and use of edible ingredients, among other things, including sturdiness.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had any collapses this year, and the houses have been on site for more than a week now,” he said with a smile. “Typically, we have one or two that have had structural flaws, and then we have to get out the ol’ glue gun.”
One structure that appeared to be in no danger of caving in was perhaps the show’s most massive creation – a replica of the University of Notre Dame’s Golden Dome.
The structure stood about 2 feet high and 2 feet square and had stained-glass windows made with translucent blue candy, a roof tipped with snow made from white icing and a replica of the Virgin Mary statue atop the dome.
The creators, the Krach/Hentz teenagers from Fort Wayne, couldn’t resist putting miniature footballs on both sides of the entry and making their work’s identifying sign in the shape of a pigskin. The piece won first place in the teen group division.
“It’s amazing. It’s totally amazing,” said Lois Grindle, 76, of Wabash as she took in the structure with her son, Bradley Grindle, 46, also of Wabash.
“It takes patience – really, really a lot of patience,” said the elder Grindle, a veteran of the gingerbread craft.
“I think it’s great they have this and have it for the kids to do,” she added. “I think it’s great to give them a creative outlet.”
Festival of Gingerbread winnersPre-kindergarten through 2nd grade, individuals
1st: Hanna Beer, Decatur
2nd: Liam Smithson, Fort Wayne
3rd: George Bowman, Fort Wayne Pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade, groups
1st: Creative Treasures Preschool, Fort Wayne
2nd: Isabel and Elinor Schenkel, Fort Wayne
3rd: Early Childhood Alliance Center at Parkview, Room 12, Fort Wayne 3rd through 6th grade, individuals
1st: Elana Gerhardstein, Fort Wayne
2nd: Dave Waikel, Fort Wayne
3rd: Victoria Etzeler, Van Wert 3rd through 6th grade, groups
1st: Abby and Alia Smith, Fort Wayne
2nd: Concordia Lutheran No. 10, Fort Wayne
3rd: GSNIM Troops 20912 and 20521 No. 2, Fort Wayne Teens, individuals
1st: Larissa Johnson, New Haven
2nd: Robb Niblick, Fort Wayne
3rd: Katlyn Setser, Fort Wayne Teens, groups
1st: Krach/Hentz, Fort Wayne
2nd: Holiday Sweets, Fort Wayne
3rd: Whitko High School Special Needs Girls, South Whitley Adults, individuals
1st: Jennifer Balkenbusch, Fort Wayne
2nd: Karen Peters, Fort Wayne 3rd: Caren Merz, New Haven Adults, groups
1st: Becky and Mary Kelty, Fort Wayne
2nd: Creative Confections Cake Club, Fort Wayne
3rd: Fearfully & Wonderfully Made, Fort Wayne Families
1st: The Eaglesons, Fort Wayne
2nd: The Schliesser Family, Bryan
3rd: Creative Cousins, Fort Wayne Professionals
1st: Vickie Short, Shipshewana
2nd: Caren Merz, New Haven
3rd: Fritz Family, Leo Best Historical Theme
Student: Larissa Johnson, New Haven
Adult: Creative Confections Cake Club, Fort Wayne WANE Media Sponsor Award
Creative Confections Cake Club, Fort Wayne Executive Director’s Award
Ivy Tech Hospitality Club, sponsored by GM Festival Chair Award
Jennifer Spurgeon, Fort Wayne Allen County Historian’s Award
Max Niblick, Fort Wayne GM Title Sponsor Award
Girl Scout Troop 00226, Fort Wayne
If you goWhat: Festival of Gingerbread
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 9
Where: The History Center, 302 E. Berry St., Fort Wayne
Admission: $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and free for children age 2 and younger
Info: 426-2882 or www.fwhistorycenter.com