Donna Boles’ desk is adorned with Santa figurines, while her computer screen saver flashes pictures of Jesus, the Coca-Cola polar bears and other Christmas designs. There is even a separate office in the Hawthorne Insurance building where she works as office manager and insurance agent, which houses plastic tubs filled with various holiday decorations.
With her love of holidays, particularly Christmas, Boles was thrust into an important role for the town of Hawthorne in 2006. Having just lost its Christmas parade organizer, the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce was left scrambling to find a replacement or face not having a parade.
The Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce requires that a board member oversee the festival. With no one else willing to take on the task, Boles, the treasurer at the time, volunteered.
“It was last minute [when the organizer stepped down], and the chamber was like, ‘Well, if no one else is going to step up and do it, we’re going to have to cancel it this year,’” Boles said. “When we notified people in the community, they all gathered up and had a meeting and they’re like, ‘We cannot have, after all these years, we cannot go a year without having the Christmas festival.’ … So that’s when I took it.”
Under Boles’ guidance, the parade and festival have gone off without a hitch for the last seven years. Boles has also moved from her role as treasurer to president of the Chamber of Commerce.
She begins planning the event each July with around a $2,000 budget, and as the holidays edge closer, Boles’ says role becomes more and more stressful.
“Luckily I have a job where I have the flexibility that I can devote as much time as I can to it,” Boles said.
Tammy Scott, a customer service representative at the Hawthorne Insurance office, joked about how much time Boles has to dedicate to the festival in the weeks leading up to it.
“If someone calls and they need auto insurance, I can help them out,” she said. “If they need homeowner’s insurance or [something more involved like that], we ask them if they can wait until after the holiday season is over.”
The parade and festival draw an estimated 3,000-5,000 people to Hawthorne, a community of about 1,400. Two-time Christmas Festival donut-eating champion and Hawthorne Mayor, Matt Surrency said that the economic impact on Hawthorne is a small part of why the festivities are important to the town.
“The best thing it does for Hawthorne is it brings people from outside the city into the city to see downtown and show off our area, our community,” he said. “It brings people together. Especially people nowadays don’t interact as much socially as they would normally do, unless it’s on like social media or something.”
This year’s festival theme is “An American Christmas” and features Cpl. Duane Dewey of Cross Creek, a neighboring community. Cpl. Dewey served in the U.S. Marines and is the only living Medal of Honor recipient in Alachua County, according to Boles.
The festival, which begins at 11 a.m. on Dec. 13, features free pictures with Santa, carnival rides, arts, crafts, food booths and music from local country musician Clay Brooker, according to a City of Hawthorne press release.
“It’s just good to see everybody come together for this little event,” Boles said. “I’ve always said it’s almost like a hometown reunion where everybody gathers up downtown and sees everybody they haven’t seen in a while.”