The streets of Deer Park will play host to a Christmas hayride Sunday. The Open Door Congregational Church, Deer Park’s oldest house of worship, is holding its 11th annual Clydesdale Caroling event.
“I’m guessing we’ll probably use Miss Calleigh and Lavender,” said farmer, veterinarian and Whitworth University professor Mike Sardinia. “Those two will be doing the work.”
“The Clydesdales take us and wander through the town, pulling a wagon,” said former Open Door Pastor Dan Berg, who retired in 2016. “We have people on the wagon and people walking along behind.”
Sardinia will handle the reins, a flanneled pied piper leading what promises to be an ever-growing flock of revelers through town. “We stop at houses and sing carols,” said Berg, “and then we make our way back to the church for cookies and cocoa.”
“We’ll have road guards,” said current Pastor Jim Lyonais. “Guys with vests and flashlights (will) run around and make sure nobody gets run over.”
The Open Door Congregational Church was founded by William H. Short in 1891, and dedicated in 1896. Short, who along with George Crawford founded Deer Park in 1889, wanted a church his sawmill workers could attend. The nearest existing church was 7 miles down an overgrown horse trail.
Short also wanted to provide a haven for hobos and rail riders, so he left the door open – inadvertently giving the church its name. The door is locked these days, but the church retains its open door feel.
“We kept a list of those who had a key to the church,” said Berg, “but we got to thinking it might be easier to keep a list of the people in Deer Park who didn’t have a key.”
The Open Door served as an infirmary during the 1918 influenza epidemic, lent its kitchen to Meals on Wheels for 15 years, and at one time housed the Deer Park Public Library.
Sardinia and his wife, Teri, keep Clydesdales and other horses on their Clayton, Washington, farm. “We have some rescue horses in there, and we have some old-timers,” he said. “They hang out in the field and eat, and people pet them.”
Sardinia began raising Clydesdales in 1990, while he was attending Washington State University’s veterinary college.
“The Wazzu vet school had a Clydesdale as their mascot that pulled a wagon,” said Sardinia. “I didn’t really even like horses at that time,” he said. “I wanted to be a cow vet.”
“I met this Clydesdale named Robbie,” he laughed, “and everything changed.” The Sardinias currently have 15 horses.
Sardinia will hitch Calleigh and Lavender to his old wagon Sunday afternoon, behind the church, and the caroling train will move out at 4 p.m.
“They’re beautiful horses,” Lyonais said. “They draw a crowd everywhere they go.”
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