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Margaret Platz Pitts doesn't live in David City anymore, but that hasn’t stopped her from over the years thinking about her hometown and occasionally making a visit.

“David City, it’s always just been cool, and it kind of finds a way to draw you back. You can take the girl out of Nebraska but you can’t take Nebraska out of the girl, right?” said Pitts, who along with more than a thousand others stormed the streets of downtown David City during last Wednesday’s “Hometown Christmas” gathering hosted by the Hallmark Channel in collaboration with the Butler County Chamber of Commerce.

Pitts, her dog companion, Katie, and a few of her other local and area friends braved the near-freezing temperatures to spend some time soaking in the Christmas festivities, which, ironically enough, happened the day before Halloween.

“Definitely a little odd that it’s right before Halloween – we will be trick-or-treating tomorrow, but right now, it’s all about Christmas,” David City Mayor Alan Zavodny said.

For Pitts, a 1969 Aquinas High School graduate, navigating the downtown area was a pretty neat experience. Now living in Brookfield, Missouri, she noted that everything in the downtown district looked a little different than years ago. With the substantial downtown construction project recently being completed, her reaction wasn’t too surprising.

“It really is amazing, and we are just having a lot of fun – everything has changed a lot from when I was a little girl,” Pitts said, adding that her grandfather in 1912 purchased and operated a drug store out of the building that now serves as Filter Care of Nebraska, 452 N. Fifth St. “… We are retired now so we have the time, and we really wanted to make it back for this.”

The event was made possible because of the city’s ties to Hallmark Cards' late founder Joyce C. Hall, who jump-started the famed company in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early 1900s. Although Hall went on to become a major household name, his humble beginnings and formative years were spent in David City.

Pam Slay, head of publicity for California-based Hallmark Channel, said that she and her colleagues were looking for a way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Countdown to Christmas," the popular series featuring the channel’s beloved made-for-television movies that help ring in the holiday season for millions nationwide.

There will be 40 new movies shown this Christmas season, Slay said, adding that since it started airing a few weeks ago more than 22 million viewers have tuned in. With the big anniversary coming up, she and others wanted to find additional ways to make people feel special around the holiday season.

“And we came up with the initiative called 'Hometown Christmas,'” she said. “And we thought about who could be the first city, the inaugural city in this program that will go on for years and years, and we thought about Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards, being from David City.

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“And Mr. Hall founded his company with a simple mission: To care enough. And that became the mission of this event.”

The enjoyment being experienced downtown was readily apparent as people walked around chatting with friends while eating an assortment of holiday treats and watching Santa Claus roll into downtown in his 1910 Model T Ford. The overall atmosphere was made possible by the Hallmark Channel donating an undisclosed amount of funds for the city to purchase new holiday lighting and decorations for the occasion.

Although the majority of people enjoying the Christmas in October event were likely from David City and other Butler County communities, several people made the trip into town from Columbus, Schuyler and places like Omaha and Lincoln.

Mandy Rettig, her husband and children, Bricen and Cooper, spent some time under the awning of a tent writing letters to Santa. Rettig said that they heard about the event all the way in their hometown of Lincoln and thought they would make the trek to participate in the fun. Although, Mandy did jokingly acknowledge that perhaps she did have a little bit of her own selfish reason.

“They (my family) all know that I’m a Hallmark Channel junkie,” she said, with a laugh.

Slay was struck by how many came out and participated in “Hometown Christmas.” Rettig and her cohorts spearheaded the initiative, but David City, its residents and those in attendance made the event the booming success it turned out to be, she said.

“We brought them a gem of an idea, and look, there must be two or three thousand people here,” Slay said. “This is all about the community and what they did. They brought all of the warmth … We started off trying to give a gift back, but the reflection of love and gratitude and generosity that we have received, we (Hallmark) really became the recipient of the gift.”

Zavodny also said he was a bit taken aback by the turnout and sense of community spirit that emanated through the entire downtown business area.

“It’s been spectacular,” Zavodny said. “I’ve lived here nearly my whole life, pretty much, and I’ve never seen it look this great.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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