Pumpkin Patch: Rooted in Over 30 Years of Tradition
For over thirty years Packer’s beloved Pumpkin Patch has grown into a staple of our community, transforming from a small county fair held in the garden alone into a huge community building fundraiser. Pumpkin Patch began in the early 1980s and relied heavily on faculty, student, and community support. The faculty were expected to organize their respective grades, participate in the activities, and help raise money. Teachers typically did not run games, but rather participated in them.
“I was told it was good sportsmanship for faculty to volunteer to help out in some of the games,” said Tim Jensen, fourth grade head teacher. “I thought that meant helping to run a game, but in fact, they wanted faculty for the sponge toss.”
The sponge toss was one of several games that the faculty played a role in. Teachers would stand behind a plywood board with a hole cut through it. They would stick their head through the hole exposing their faces. Kids, standing 25 yards away, were then given wet sponges to throw at the teachers.
“Big kids were throwing sponges really hard at faculty’s faces, and it was cold, pumpkin patch was cold. You would get hit in the face with a big wet sponge and the kids would laugh,” said Mr. Jensen. “You would try to psych the person out by getting them mad, so they would aim badly and miss. You were essentially being a target for kids to throw big sponges at your face. That went on for the first three years I was at Packer.”
The faculty’s role evolved as Pumpkin Patch grew, but they remained human targets for several years.
“I remember we were sitting in the dunk tank or having wet sponges thrown at us or falling off a plank into a ball pit,” said Dorothy Gurreri, health and physical education teacher. “They thought it was funny to knock the teacher into the pit. There were a few faculty accidents there. One teacher had stitches in his lip.”
Soon after, these activities were discontinued, and the faculty role was diminished to helping run the Lower School haunted house and the food court. The role of the community outside Packer has also diminished as Pumpkin Patch is now primarily run by the Parents Association. Community vendors, when Pumpkin Patch first started, used Packer as a place to sell and showcase their product.
“I remember the center garden being filled with pumpkins that were delivered from one of the vendors from the local green market,” said Ms. Gurreri. “They filled the center. People could come in and buy their pumpkins and apples. It (Pumpkin Patch) has definitely changed a lot.”
Although a lot of Pumpkin Patch has changed over the years, some core aspects have stood the test of time: plate smashing, baked goods, and the haunted house. For some reason these three are the only things that have been unaffected as Pumpkin Patch has grown immensely. The haunted house has always remained one of the most important parts of the fair’s identity.
“I think the most memorable piece of it for me was the haunted house,” said Eric Baylin, who’s going into his 34th year as an art teacher. “There was an Upper School drama student in the coffin that popped out and scared my daughter. My daughter was three maybe four, and he scared the living s**t out of her. She was traumatized for weeks.”
Along with participating in the haunted house, Middle and Upper School students played a large role when Pumpkin Patch first began. Every Middle School and High School grade was responsible for organizing an aspect of the fair.
“I remember my ninth graders were responsible for selling helium balloons,” said Dorothy Gurreri, the former ninth grade dean. “So we were here all day selling the $1 helium balloons for anybody that came into the community.”
This is just one example of students’ involvement in Pumpkin Patch during the 1980s. Before it was an established fair, Pumpkin Patch needed high school students to step up and take responsibility. But now very few high school students even attend the event, much less assume leadership positions.
“I don’t remember anything about Pumpkin Patch,” said Siobhan Harvey (‘19). “I haven’t been since seventh grade.”
Because high school students no longer receive community service hours for volunteering, they have become much less involved.
“It is supposed to be for the whole school. We do miss Upper School involvement in terms of help and that is a huge part of our community that is not there,” said Alexa Eckkles, who is in charge of Pumpkin Patch this year. “I have been talking to Ms. Howard about possibly re-allowing high school students to volunteer as team leaders for community service credit.”
Hopefully these new opportunities will pique interest in high school students, and as a result, Pumpkin Patch will see a rise in Upper School involvement in the following years.