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Gingerbread house display at Grove Park sweetens the holidays


By Pete Zamplas-The sweet smell of success abounds in the 21st annual National Gingerbread House Competition, displayed for the rest of the year in the 100-year-old Omni Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in Asheville.

Many of the more than 150 entries are displayed through Jan. 2, Sundays through Thursdays for the general public and on Fridays and Saturdays only for guests staying in the recently-renovated inn. The public can view holiday decorations, including on 80 trees.

Typically, the grand prize winner and a few other gingerbread homes are shown on ABC’s “Good Morning America” just before Christmas Eve.

Omni Hotels this year bought the inn, which has 510 guest rooms and deluxe spa. The inn has hosted visits by 10 presidents from Taft to Obama; entertainers Will Rogers, Al Jolson, Harry Houdini, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jerry Seinfeld; and industrialists John D. Rockefeller and vacationing buddies Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison. The U.S. Supreme Court reportedly once had plans to relocate to the inn, in case of a nuclear attack on Washington.

Contest winners as usual come from various states including neighboring Tennessee, but include some locals. For instance, teen (ages 13-17) second place went to Elisabeth Somerville of Montreat for a scene featuring wood-looking tile and door, and third to Lilli McFerrin of Black Mountain for a Victorian house with merry-go-round in back.

Shan Patel of Asheville won third place among youth ages 9-12. His vision of Venice, Italy included a bridge and gondoliers.

The child category for ages 5-8 had second place go to Avery’s Creek Gal Pals (Brooke Dodd, Addison Nailer and Kassidy Webb) of Mills River. They showed a snoozing Snoopy, on his holiday doghouse. Third was awarded to “The Swilkernettes” of Asheville (Emma Silverman for the “S,” Evan Wilker and Josie Robinette for the “nettes”). Their scene included a toy workshop, “ratdeer” (not reindeer) stable, and Meditation Path.

A perennial champion for the past five years has been Lydia Gentry, of Henderson County. She won in all four years she was eligible in the youth division. But she did not enter, now that she is busy in high school as a Fletcher Academy freshman. Her elder sister Courtney, now a senior there, bowed out at a similar age. Lydia “retired as a winner,” said her mother Michelle Gentry. She said her family will see the exhibit.

Grand prize (adult) winner Kimberly Thalman from Franklin, Wisc. depicted two panda bears’ fur in exquisite detail. She won a prize package valued at over $7,500, out of $22,000 total in cash and prizes for the four categories. Winners were chosen Nov. 18, by a panel of pastry chefs and other distinguished judges.

Entries were judged for overall appearance, originality/creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. Materials had to be edible, other than the base.

A prize of $1,000 for furthest travel went to Gail Rice from Pleasenton, Calif. Kristin DeFilippis and John McGinley of Toronto were the first contestants from another country, since the contest began in 1992.

A new fee policy is requiring that all motoring visitors (excluding overnight guests) pay $10 per vehicle to park this month, yet dedicating half of this money to these six area charities: Children’s First/Communities in School, Asheville City Schools Foundation, MANNA Food Bank’s Packs for Kids, Council on Aging of Buncombe County, Mission Children’s Hospital, and Make-a-Wish in Central and Western N.C.

For more about Omni Grove Park Inn and its gingerbread contest, call (800) 559-3984, or check

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