Bethany rings in holiday with toy drive

BETHANY – The Christmas light-up night at Bethany College Thursday brought together many popular elements of the holidays – a visit from Santa Claus, the singing of Christmas carols, sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles and festive wreaths and other decorations.

But most importantly, it was a reminder of how the holiday encourages us to reach out to loved ones and to those we don’t know.

A highlight of the event held at the Commencement Hall of the college’s Old Main was a Christmas tree auction that raised $1,805 for the Bernie’s Kids toy drive.

Auctioneers Rick Sponhaltz and Harry Grafton of Gary Cain Realtors garnered numerous bids for 24 miniature Christmas trees decorated in a variety of themes by various college groups.

Some were decorated with wrapped gifts for children, snack foods and other unconventional ornaments. Others were accompanied by various items – a Homer-Laughlin serving dish and assorted sauces made in West Virginia, children’s books or items related to the “Duck Dynasty” television show.

Receiving the highest bid, at $290, was a tree in a jade green ceramic vase made by art professor Aaron Anslow and decorated with assorted flavored teas.

Kirk Kazienko was on hand to express thanks to the college for its support, noting it raised more than $1,600 last year for the toy drive begun by his father, the late Bernie Kazienko, to bring Christmas cheer to local children in need.

He said the support of the students and others helped the grassroots charity to provide gifts to 165 children last year.

Kazienko said people may bring toys to the Brooke County Courthouse, the Crooked Dock, Hard Times, Reasner Funeral Home, Robert Scott Lumber, Main Street Bank, Progressive Bank and First National Bank.

The group also is accepting monetary donations through an account at Main Street Bank or by mail at Bernie’s Kids, P.O. Box 430, Wellsburg, WV 26070.

Those interested in donating or helping also may contact Kazienko at or visit the group’s Facebook site at Bernie’s Kids.

As master of ceremonies, Jerry Stebbins, dean of students, announced Bethany students also had a surprise for Linda Walters, an employee of the college for more than 40 years. Ciara Clements, a sophomore, informed Walters she and others raised $3,380 for her through donations generated by the Go Fund Me website.

“Bethany (College) is a community that cares about one another and one that cares about our extended community,” Stebbins said.

Following the program, Clements explained Walters, her supervisor at the college’s Beanery coffee shop, arrived one day distraught because the foundation of her house had shifted, forcing her to move from the home, which had been her father’s. Walters since has found a new place to live, but Clements and others still are working to raise $5,000 to help with the relocation.

Clements said because of Walters’ caring way, she knew she had to do something to help.

“If I’m sick, she always asks if she can help me. She’s always been there for me,” she said.

Stebbins noted as a residence adviser, Walters was known for the Christmas parties she organized for students.

Walters admitted she knew a number of current college staff members when they were students there.

“I love the kids. People don’t realize they go through more than just going to class,” she said, adding the students’ four years of college are a time not only for studies but also personal growth.

Besides the auction, there was much to do at the light-up. Attendees were encouraged to sing along with the college’s choir.

They also could have a cookie iced and decorated to their specifications by Jackie Hudson, catering director for the Chartwells food service at the college. Members of the Phi Mu sorority were creating and distributing Christmas ornaments, while the Pre-Health Professions Club was making and selling Christmas wreaths to raise money for the upcoming trip to Washington, D.C.

Asher Deal, son of religious studies professor Brooke Deal, had the honor of pressing the button to light the hall’s Christmas tree. And Santa Claus paid a surprise visit.

Communications students Jared Martin and Dakota Kotson said the event was aired live by the Bethany Broadcasting Network via the Internet.

(Scott can be contacted at