LYNNFIELD — Every year at the Country Store when children made a beeline for the narrow wooden stairs to the top of the Meeting House, it was for one of two reasons: A photo with Santa or the chance to win a prize at Colby Properties’ North Pole Fishing Hole.
The Country Store returns to the Meeting House on Saturday, Dec. 2, taking place from 9 a.m. through the end of the Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Town Common.
For a dollar per cast, prizes included things such as holiday hats, little toys, games, stuffed animals and sparkly jewelry. But for the children, it was the excitement of using a homemade fishing rod, a dowel with string and a paperclip hook to catch an unknown package by its pink, blue or white ribbon that got their hearts beating. The thrill of hooking a big one and the ensuing cheering and bell ringing brought kids back again and again.
Colby Properties co-owner Karen Colby brought the North Pole Fishing Hole to the Country Store to serve as a fundraiser to support the preservation of the Meeting House more than a decade ago. It was and still is a Colby family holiday tradition at their homes that was initiated by Nancy Colby, Karen’s mother and business partner, who remembered a similar game played at a carnival when she was a child. It was a three-generation family effort at the Country Store. Karen Colby, Nancy Colby and Nancy’s sister Shirley helped out most often with the wrapping and purchasing of over 200 prizes annually. Nancy’s daughter, Alison, was the group photographer and manned the cash box during breaks.
Karen’s granddaughters Logan and Sloan Colby Nunziato started working the fishing booth when they were in middle school and recruited and managed other students in the process. As they grew older, they earned their real estate licenses and became part of Colby Properties Real Estate beyond the fishing event. They ensured a consistency with the game that the children expected and wanted. Karen’s husband, John Nunziato, did a lot of heavy lifting setting up and breaking down the North Pole Fishing Hole. He was also downstairs selling cheese, and didn’t get to see the impact the game had on children.
Enchanted fishermen became team members as the years passed. The Girl Scouts, cheerleaders and National Honor Society members all earned community service credit by helping out at the event. Molly Smedira was a regular feature at the North Pole Fishing Hole, and became a team leader for additional fundraising efforts, managing candy and ornament decorating tables. Wherever she was needed, Smedira helped.
“We want to thank every volunteer who participated over the years,” said Karen. “You made this possible and shared the heart and spirit of the holidays with all of us. I think perhaps the most touching story we heard was from a mom who took her family for a Disney vacation that they cut short because their son pleaded with them to return early so he wouldn’t miss fishing. That something so simple and small could have that kind of impact was heartwarming for us.”
Karen recalled that some children planned all their gift giving by bringing their birthday and allowance money in order to fish over and over again, and matching the prizes with family members. Nancy very occasionally offered a do-over if a child was disappointed with their gift, although that was against the rules due to fishing being a luck of the draw type of game.
“For my mother, it was all about the kids and seeing them happy and excited,” said Karen. “When she first saw the fishing game at a carnival, she and her sister were about 5-6 years old, and so didn’t have any money with them and couldn’t play. She wanted to keep the price low enough that no child would experience that disappointment.”
Karen recalled that Nancy passed away last year. After 12-plus years developing the North Pole Fishing Hole, Colby Properties has decided to pass the rod and game to the next generation.
“We were thrilled to learn that the amazing Connor’s Kindness Project will be manning the North Pole Fishing Hole in 2023 and thereby keeping the tradition of delighting children alive while supporting a worthy cause,” said Karen. “We couldn’t ask for a team more devoted to giving than Connor’s Kindness Project, which will also carry on the tradition of a team led by Connor and supported by his grandmother, family and friends. Our family looks forward to watching the fishing game evolve as Connor’s Kindness adds its own spin on the Fishing Hole and builds new memories for children.”