Friday, December 16, 2011

Freemasons Host Christmas Party for Exceptional Students

Singers-Jackson-County-Exceptional-School-Christmas-Party.JPGStudents from the Jackson County Exceptional School in Pascagoula attended a Christmas Party at the Masonic Lodge on Wednesday. Singing a Christmas song are, from left, volunteer Rachel Pugh, Circuit Clerk Joe Martin, volunteer Monica Roberson, student Mark Whitehead, Sheriff Mike Byrd and John Thomas from Thomas Realty. In the background is Kevin Benefield on the keyboard, music minister at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. (BEVERLY TUSKAN/Press-Register)
Pascagoula Lodge #419 F&AM
PASCAGOULA, Mississippi -- Fifty excited students from the Jackson County Exceptional School listened to Christmas songs, ate food and clapped their hands when a Santa Claus stopped by their tables to hand out bags of goodies during their Christmas party.
The Masonic Lodge on Market Street opened their doors Wednesday to host the annual party at which members of the community volunteered a variety of holiday songs.
The students moved and clapped to the sound of Elvis impersonator Danny Rand, who donned a brilliant blue outfit garnished with jewels.
Bill Dillon, a retired Mississippi highway patrolman and a 55-year member of the American Legion, said he and his wife have been spearheading and funding the Christmas party for 25 years.
And every year, the Exceptional School students are the recipients of their generosity.
Santa-Jackson-County-Exceptional-School-Christmas-Party.JPGSanta Claus hands out big bags of goodies to students of the Jackson County Exceptional School during an annual Christmas Party held at the Masonic Lodge on Wednesday. Portraying Santa is Mason Freddy Grubbs. (BEVERLY TUSKAN/Press-Register)
"I thought they needed a party better than anybody I could think of," Dillon said. "And it's one nice day a year that they would have smiles and be happy."
Among those helping to make the event a success this year are volunteers Mike and Cheryl Whitehead of Pascagoula, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd and his deputies, Circuit Clerk Joe Martin, John Thomas with Thomas Realty, Kevin Benefield from Sacred Heart Church, along with a host of other community volunteers.
Santa, portrayed by Mason Freddy Grubbs, handed out big bags of goodies to each of the students. Goodies included apples, oranges, tangerines, bananas, coloring books, toys and other educational tools.
Cheryl Whitehead called the event a success because of what it means to the children.
Jackson-County-Exceptional-School-Christmas-Party.JPGStudents from the Jackson County Exceptional School in Pascagoula wait for their lunch during a Christmas party at the Masonic Lodge in Pascagoula on Wednesday. Held every year for the students, the party was primarily spearheaded by Bill Dillon, a longtime highway patrolman and a 55-year member of the American Legion. (BEVERLY TUSKAN/Press-Register)
"Many of these children do not have any other parties. This is the only one they'll have," Whitehead said. "And there are a few, that this is the only gift they will receive. It's unbelievable, but it's true."
The sheriff's department has been involved with this project for nearly 12 years, Byrd said.
"It is so important these children have a wonderful Christmas. They are the ones that will make you really look and be thankful for everything you have. They are wonderful children and we want to make things bright for them," the sheriff said.
"Bill Dillon got me involved in this right before I was elected sheriff," he said. "It's been a tremendous blessing to me and to the department. And we're going to continue."
Dillon-Jackson-County-Exceptional-christmas-party.JPGBill Dillon, right, a retired highway patrolman and longtime American Legion member, speaks during a Christmas party held for Jackson County Exceptional School students at the Masonic Lodge on Wednesday. Dillon has been the main organizer of the annual event since spearheading it 25 years ago. Listening are, from left, John Thomas with Thomas Realty, Geraldine Miskel, principal of the Exceptional School, and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd. (BEVERLY TUSKAN/Press-Register)
Among the faculty accompanying the students were Principal Geraldine Miskel, who was celebrating her last Christmas party with her students. She will retire after 31 years as an educator.
School secretary Evelyn Davis said every year, the children look forward to coming out for the annual party.
"The children are excited, happy and looking forward to seeing Santa Claus," Davis said. "That's the main thing, waiting to see Santa."

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