Holiday fun abounds at the Center’s Lester Day

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Santa finishes his big entrance at Lester Family Fun Day by dancing to the beat of the Manatee High School drum line. - Kristin Swain | Sun

ANNA MARIA – Despite the Florida heat, The Center of Anna Maria Island was transformed Dec. 1 into a winter wonderland for the 17th Annual Lester Family Fun Day.

The annual event, sponsored by Chuck and Joey Lester, promises family fun at old-fashioned prices, and this year’s event definitely delivered. Families were treated to burgers from Duffy’s Tavern, hotdogs donated by Anna Maria Oyster Bar and ice cream sandwiches from Tyler’s Ice Cream.

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Joey and Chuck Lester enjoy a Duffy’s burger. – Kristin Swain | Sun

While the inside of the Center was a north pole fairyland with Christmas lights, holiday trees, giant teddy bears and colorfully wrapped gifts, the outside actually had snow from two snowmen who blew the white bubbly stuff over an area where children frolicked and played before moving on to the bounce house, petting zoo or participated in a pick-up football game on the field. The two favorite attractions were the pony ride and the bull ride which had a continuous line of eager riders until the field events closed at 1:30 p.m. to make way for the golf ball 50/50 raffle drop from a helicopter.

Center Executive Director Chris Culhane and his family took to the skies, flying on the donated chopper from Sarasota to the Center where they dropped buckets of purchased, numbered golf balls on the field to see which one would land closest to the hole. Center board treasurer Christine Hicks won the raffle with the first ever golf ball that landed in the hole. She donated her winnings back to the Center.

In addition to the 50/50 raffle, raffles also were held for 50 turkeys that were given away during the event and a Christmas tree, donated by Merry Christmas Trees of Bradenton.

Holiday tunes for the event were provided by DJ Freeze though one of the biggest attractions of the day was a performance by the Manatee High School drum line. Everyone was in high spirits when the drum line escorted in Santa and his elves, delivered to the event on his sleigh by the Pyrates of the Gulf Coast. Even Santa couldn’t help dancing to the beat of the drums as he gave a little impromptu performance before taking a seat and hearing the Christmas wishes of all the boys and girls in attendance.

Throughout the day, children were able to participate in activities from fishing for prizes to decorating cookies and ornaments along with face painting. Before the 50/50 raffle wrapped up the day’s festivities, board Chair David Zaccagnino took to the stage to thank the day’s sponsors, staff and volunteers and present a piece of original artwork to Chuck and Joey Lester created by 21-year-old artist Emma Terry, who previously attended the Center’s after-school program. The artwork also was used to create T-shirts for the event, which were available to volunteers and for purchase.

“This is an amazing event,” Zaccagnino said at the end of the day. “It just keeps getting better and better every year.”