Family gifts reindeer decoration to community center in Elkins

The Inter-Mountain photo by Tim MacVean A reindeer, which stands more than 18 feet tall, pulls a sleigh across the lawn of the Phil Gainer Community Center in Elkins.

ELKINS — Many Elkins residents may have noticed a reindeer that used to reside in south Elkins has scampered to the Phil Gainer Community Center.

For many years, the reindeer pulled its sleigh across the lawn of 101 Riverview Dr., at the residence of the late Hilda Pennington who passed away on Christmas Eve several years ago.

The idea for the reindeer structure, which stands more than 18 feet tall, originated when Pennington’s son, Johnny, was working at the YMCA in Waverly, Ohio.

“When I was in Waverly, Ohio, running the YMCA, the town of Waverly had built a couple of them to put in the park during the Christmas holidays. I liked it really well. I thought it was beautiful when I first saw them and I had asked the people at the city if I could get the pattern to build one for the YMCA in Waverly,” Pennington said about the reindeer’s origin.

“They agreed to it, so when I got the pattern I decided I wanted to put one up in Mom’s yard. Mom was dealing with some illness and I thought maybe it would cheer her up some, so we cut out two at the Y, and I, of course, put the one at the YMCA and brought the one back to Elkins and put up.”

He added the city of Waverly later got a pattern for a sleigh to go with the deer and he also constructed one of those for his mother’s lawn.

Pennington said the reindeer and sleigh were placed at his mother’s south Elkins residence each holiday season for roughly five years before he was physically unable to continue constructing it.

“We had it for about five years over at Mom’s and then it just got to the point I got some issues in my back and I just couldn’t coordinate the guys to help me get it up and help me put it up,” he said. “It’s fun but it takes a little bit of time. I told my brother last year that would probably be the last year for the sleigh in the yard because I was getting to the point I couldn’t put it up anymore or find people to help me. We hated it because everyone loved seeing it when they came by the house.”

Pennington said the decision to donate the reindeer and sleigh to the Phil Gainer Community Center came from the fact that the Pennington family and Gainer family were close friends, and he had worked with Gainer and Sam Severino, both of whom served as part of the Elkins Parks and Recreation department, when he was employed by the Elkins-Randolph County YMCA.

“We’ve always been friends with the Gainers. Growing up as kids we lived beside one another. For years I was the director of the downtown Y here and (Gainer) and Sam Severino ran the parks and recreation so we collaborated with a lot of events together and worked together,” he said. “Phil was a good friend of ours.”

He said they decided to call Phil Gainer Community Center Facility Manager Chris Lee and see if he and the employees there would like to have the reindeer to set up outside the facility.

“I called (Lee) about it and he was excited about it. He said that he and his family would always drive by and see the sleigh and reindeer and thought it was one of the best things in town when it came to decorations,” Pennington said.

“They agreed to it and so right after Thanksgiving we got together and the staff over at the parks, Chris and myself went over there and put the reindeer up,” he added. “I think he’s getting quite a few compliments on it.”

Lee added the Phil Gainer Community Center is “thrilled” with the addition.

“We’re thrilled the Pennington family was so kind to donate the sleigh and reindeer to the Phil Gainer Community Center,” Lee said. “We’ll do our part to ensure the decorations are put up during the Christmas season for years to come so that folks can continue to enjoy them.”

Pennington said he spoke to Gainer’s wife, Tammy, and son, Seth, both of whom expressed they were pleased with the project.

“I’m sure the Gainer family, because of our relationship over the years, are pretty excited we did it and we are excited — my brothers and sisters are very happy we decided to do it,” he said.

Hilda Pennington was integral in running the local business Cardinal Garden and Gifts with Johnny’s brother, Jo Jo Pennington.

Pennington added his brother, Jo Jo, and wif,e Amanda Pennington, were both key in making the donation a reality.

“Jo Jo had a lot to do with it because after Mom died, Jo Jo lived at the house and we wanted to continue to put it up and he liked the idea of giving it to the community center because of our relationship with the Gainer family,” he said.

“Also, my wife, Dr. (Amanda) Pennington at the hospital, loved the idea, too. She was also very instrumental in erecting the deer every year,” he noted. “She would climb up the scaffold and helped. She loved the fact we did what we did for the center.”

Staff of the Phil Gainer Community Center is currently repairing the reindeer after high winds overnight Wednesday caused it to fall. Lee added the structure would be back on display soon.