A singing gorilla, boxing chicken and giant cats may seem out of the ordinary for many people who celebrate Halloween, but it just marks another holiday for Steve and Cecelia Orcutt.
“I went to a Halloween contest when I was 5 years old,” Steve said. “We’ve been celebrating Halloween ever since.”
Celebrate may be an understatement. Since the Orcutts moved into their home at the corner of Cottonwood and East streets in 1979, they have made a point of going all-out each Oct. 31. This year their lawn is littered with giant black cats, cauldrons, skeletons and a goblin. The list goes on.
They expect to see more than 1,000 children on Halloween night. They keep tally by counting how many pieces of candy are handed out — one per child.
“It has really become overwhelming with this amount of people,” Cecelia said. “We didn’t try and make it this big.”
The crowds haven’t discouraged them, however, rather seem to have encouraged the displays. Steve said his decorations started just on the porch, but by word of mouth more and more kids began showing up at his doorstep. It was at that point when he decided to expand to the lawn.
When asked why they spend so much of their time decorating their lawn and handing out candy, Steve expressed his care for the children of the community. Steve and Cecelia were both art teachers in Iola schools, and it seems their connection with young people has grown stronger than ever.
“It’s really about the passion of staying connected with the young people,” Steve said. “Sometimes I think children have better values.”
While Cecelia said Steve’s creative mind is a lot of the driving force behind the Halloween festivities, she said her role is much more than logistics. Neither she nor Steve dress up for Halloween, but instead dedicate their time to making sure all of the children have the best time possible.
Cecelia said during Halloween, she is constantly running in and out of the house, resupplying the candy jar.
“I have to make sure the candy keeps coming out,” Cecelia said.
The Orcutts’ retirement, if you can call it that, is filled with activities that have one theme in common — to make the community better. Steve has been in multiple plays at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, such as “Oklahoma.” He said just like the characters he plays, he sees himself as someone who “tries makes the community a little bit better with every visit to town.”
The Orcutts generally start the festivities around 5 p.m. at their home, and close things down around 8 o’clock. Their home is hard to miss. Just look for the boxing chicken or the cowboy gorilla playing a banjo.
IOLA POLICE CHIEF Jared Warner said his team of police officers will be out in full force Wednesday night to make sure everyone is safe while going house to house.
Officers will block off Cottonwood Street by the high school, down along East Street to Colborn. His department will increase roving patrols, along with walking police officers.
While he said safety is a chief concern for Halloween, he has not seen any incidents since he became chief in 2009.
“Our plan has been working,” Warner said, “We haven’t seen any problems.”
Since this year’s Halloween takes place on a school night, Warner said he expects the night to be fairly calm. However, he said parents may take certain steps to ensure their children are safe.
First, he said it is much safer for parents to drop off their children for trick-or-treating, or an even better idea would be to walk along with your child for the entire evening. He said it can be unsafe to drive a vehicle from house to house with many other children running across the street.
Second, he emphasized the need for light on children and parent.
“I’ve seen a lot of children dressed up as ‘The Dark Knight’ this year,” Warner said, “and he is obviously only wearing black.”
He suggested glow lights for the children, in the form of a necklace or bracelet. Overall, he said the most important thing is to make your child as visible as possible.
Warner said his department’s biggest concern is always a missing child, however, as long as parents take the appropriate measures, everything will go smoothly.
“With everything said, it’s all about being wise,” Warner said. “Parents should just go out with their children and enjoy the evening.”
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