Grandchildren build gingerbread houses for Nairobi well

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2000

SEWARD (AP) -- It's all business at the Odhner household, as two young brothers perch on chairs on either side of the kitchen table, sinking colorful candies into a frosting-covered gingerbread house centered between them.

There's only 10 more days till Christmas, and Carson Odhner, 7, and his little brother Jaz, 5, have nine more houses to decorate. They've already helped their mother, Judy Odhner, fill 13 orders.

The boys aren't just demonstrating to Santa how helpful they can be. They're helping fulfill their grandpa's rather nontraditional Christmas gift request of money to drill a water well at an orphanage in Africa.

Gingerbread house sales and donations have garnered about $700, which will soon be sent off to their unsuspecting grandfather in Ontario, N.Y., as a Christmas surprise.

Grandpa Chuck Curtis, 67, is a retired funeral director turned clown who spent three weeks in Kenya this summer with members of a Presbyterian church from Webster, N.Y., said his daughter, Judy.

''He even went to clown school,'' she said of her father's newfound profession, which he used to put smiles on faces of children at orphanages he visited in Africa.

But Curtis hasn't been able to shake the image of squalid living conditions he encountered at the Dagoretti Children's Center in Nairobi. The facility has no water for its 200 inhabitants, who walk through crime-infested areas of the city to get their water and haul it back to the orphanage, Curtis conveyed to his daughter.

''When we asked him what he wanted for Christmas this year, he said he wanted to drill a well for this orphanage,'' Judy said.

During a brainstorming session with her sons and husband Jan on how to help out grandpa, she and the boys came up with the idea of selling gingerbread houses, which they agreed to decorate. The solution was prompted by a gingerbread course their mother recently took at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center.

It's been a learning experience, where one too many candies can spell disaster.

Such was the case with the boys' exuberance to make an extra special gingerbread house for their favorite Moose Pass Elementary School teacher.

''They put so much candy on it. We heard this noise, turned around and it had totally collapsed,'' said Judy.

Jaz said Skittles are his favorite candy to decorate with and admits they sometimes don't all make it to the gingerbread house.

''We eat a little,'' he confessed.

The Odhner kids aren't the only grandchildren helping grandpa.

While Curtis himself is out raising money for his $30,000 cause, his grandsons in New York are also secretly doing the same.

His family will present a check to the unsuspecting Curtis in his New York home on Christmas morning, hidden in a gingerbread water well.

''There's going to be a lot of tears shed at our house this Christmas,'' Judy's mother told her daughter during a recent telephone conversation when she learned of the surprise plans.

You can bet they'll be happy tears.

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