Thelma Littler hands a plate to a guest as Brandon Slaymaker and Annette Arzinger, both from Fremont, make way for the 87-year-old woman who's in charge of the picnic lunch and fun day for mentally handicapped children and adults of Sandusky and Seneca counties.
FREMONT - Hosting a picnic for 700 or so is no sweat for Thelma Littler.
The spunky 87-year-old just makes sure she has plenty of help.
"Every year you'll find somebody that it's their first time to volunteer," she said. "I always tell them if you come and volunteer, no one will have to ask you the next year."
And they really don't.
The more than 75 volunteers who hail from nearly every veterans organization in Seneca and Sandusky counties look forward to the annual get-together at the Fremont Recreation Center where they serve hot dogs, baked beans, macaroni salad, chips, and ice cream to about 700 children, adults, and staff members of the School of Hope in Fremont and the School of Opportunity in Tiffin.
"Once you start, you're hooked," said Cliff Cockie, a member of Fostoria American Legion post who has volunteered at the picnic for about 30 years.
After everyone eats in the de-iced ice arena, there's dancing, basketball, bowling, and other games and activities in the gymnasium.
"You come one year and you're hooked. It's awesome," said Alana Mellott, who was the official "ketchup and mustard gal" in the lunch line yesterday.
"It's great to watch the kids having so much fun. Rumor is they start looking forward to this right after Christmas," Ms. Mellott said.
The management club at the former Basic Refractories plant in Bettsville actually started the picnic around 1966. Mrs. Littler became involved in 1980 when the folks at Basic asked Bettsville American Legion Post 733 to take it over.
Skip Craun, who at the time was the commander, said his group was willing to host the picnic but knew it couldn't do it alone. So Mr. Craun contacted every veterans organization and auxiliary in the two counties, and they all agreed to support it with cash, donated food or supplies, and volunteers.
Mr. Craun said Mrs. Littler was one of the first people he recruited. Not only was Mrs. Littler a longtime member of the Bettsville American Legion, but her daughter, Roxanne, was - and still is - a client at the School of Hope.
Mrs. Littler has been in charge - though without a title - ever since.
"I don't know what you call me. I just make sure everything goes right," Mrs. Littler said.
Don Nalley, who is the director of adult services for Sandusky County Board of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities, had nothing but praise for the event, the veterans, and Mrs. Littler, who "keeps the veterans in line. She's unbelievable."
"She's definitely the drive," agreed Mark Leahy, who is his counterpart from Seneca County.
Woody Snyder, 76, of Bettsville said he has helped out at the picnic for 10 years or so, and he is always amazed at the number of guests who remember him. It might help that in past years, he gave fire truck rides to the children.
"They say, 'Hi, Woody.' It's really something," Mr. Snyder said, adding that he wouldn't miss it. "You really get tired, but at the end of the day, it's a good tired."
Mrs. Littler, who didn't sit down to eat until everyone else was fed, couldn't say when she might stop heading up the picnic.
"Oh, don't ask me that," Mrs. Littler said.
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