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Working on Christmas
Working on Christmas

PriceCutter Restaurant cook Edna Dearduff prepares a take-out buffet meal for a Christmas customer.
WAYNESVILLE/ST. ROBERT, Mo. (Dec. 26, 2008) — Some businesses in St. Robert and Waynesville almost never close. Certain gas stations run a 24-hour operation, customers can pick up a McDonald’s hamburger at the drive-through window even in the early hours of the morning, and Wal-Mart remains open even when there are more stockers and cashiers than customers in the store.

For many of those businesses, there’s one big exception to that always-open policy: Christmas Day.

However, when the big national-chain restaurants close, that provides an opportunity for smaller businesses such as the PriceCutter Restaurant in Waynesville, formerly known as Smitty’s. Restaurant management opened on Christmas and provided a special Christmas buffet this year from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Restaurant cook Edna Dearduff of Crocker has been a cook for about five years at the restaurant, which she said has been open each year on Christmas, and she enjoys working on holidays. Many of her holiday customers are regular visitors who come often, though holidays also bring customers traveling on Interstate 44 who come in for a meal and find her restaurant is one of the few open in the area.

Those regular customers include Linda Ridings of St. Robert.

“I like to eat here,” Ridings said. “I like the decorations, I like the people; I come in here a lot and I know most people by name.”

Carl Winningham of Waynesville voiced similar but stronger feelings. He came to the restaurant with his wife Paulette so his family wouldn’t have to cook on Christmas Day.

“Thank goodness for Smitty’s for Thanksgiving Day and for Christmas. For people who don’t do a lot of cooking, they can come down here and have your Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving dinner,” Winningham said. “These other restaurants? Uh-unh … they don’t want to open up and stay open for the people.”

Winningham said he’s been coming to the restaurant and grocery store for more than a decade.

“Ever since this store has been here I’ve been shopping here. I like it better than the commissary,” Winningham said.

Samantha Tull of Buckhorn was one of two waitresses on duty Christmas Day to serve customers.

“(I like) the people, the customers, the people I work with; everybody’s real friendly,” Tull said.

Working on Christmas isn’t a problem, Tull said.

“I actually enjoy it. I like the season of giving,” Tull said. “Everybody has been very pleasant and cheery.”

“The customers, they are so pleasing,” Dearduff agreed. “I mean, you come in, you know what to do. Cooking is my favorite thing.

While the PriceCutter restaurant had a steady crowd, many of the hotels had few customers. Most parking lots in area hotels were vacant, including the large upscale hotels owned by Ehrhardt Properties on St. Robert Boulevard.

“Today on Christmas it’s been kind of slow,” said Jared Tharp, front desk trainer at the Hampton Inn. “We’ve had a couple walk-ins, a couple people just traveling to or from home … obviously being right outside of Fort Leonard Wood here, our business definitely depends on a lot of military families here for graduation and things like that. Wintertime, Exodus, things like that, our business slows way down, and today we’re seeing that more than ever.”

Tharp said he volunteered to work on Christmas so other employees with families could stay home.

“I don’t have any children yet; I know there are a lot of employees that do have children and it’s my personal opinion that they should be home to spend time with their families,” Tharp said.

While most restaurants do close on Christmas and the hotels could close — though none in the Fort Leonard Wood area routinely close for holiday seasons — people in emergency services don’t have that option.

Christmas Day was a quiet day for the Waynesville Rural Fire Protection District. Members of the regular team came on duty at 7 a.m. for their 24-hour shift, with a team that included firefighters Billy Ellis of Richland, Ken Hawkins of Waynesville, Joshua Hall of Crocker and Tanner Hunt of Lebanon. Crocker firefighter Malcolm Smith came to do a ride-along with Hall, one of his best friends.

This year was Hawkins’ fourth time working on Christmas Day.

“I’ve just been sitting here watching the John Wayne marathon,” Hawkins said. “It’s quiet; there’s not a whole lot of people starting fires today.”

Waynesville firefighters didn’t receive any calls until the early evening when a natural cover fire was reported on Texas Road that was quickly extinguished.

Hunt said being away from his family was difficult, but it’s a price he knew he’d have to pay as a firefighter. Santa came early to the Hunt home, he said, with presents such as soccer equipment, video games and clothes opened the previous day before he left for work.

“One of the challenges is being away from the family and not getting to spend some of the important holidays that we have with them,” Hunt said. “(I explain that) Tanner had to go to work and help people and won’t be here on Christmas Day so (Santa) came and showed up early.”

Hall said his family opens Christmas presents at midnight, so that part of the family tradition wasn’t interrupted by his fire shift. His family members planned to come later in the evening to bring Christmas dinner to Hall and his fellow firefighters, he said. Members of the local Shrine Club also brought a ham and turkey lunch for the Waynesville firefighters, and Deputy Chief Andy Baker came to visit the firefighters as well.

St. Robert Police Department Dispatcher Lee Whiteley has spent 16 years in emergency services, working as a dispatcher in the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Columbia Police Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol and now St. Robert.

“You get used to it … my entire family gets together on the days that I have off,” Whiteley said, noting she’s probably worked on Christmas for seven or eight of the last 16 years.

“It has to be done; somebody has to be here. It’s an important job and you kind of know that you have to be here on Christmas when you take jobs like this,” Whiteley said. “You can’t determine whether or not things are going to happen, they happen, and we have to be here when they do.”

Warm weather this Christmas meant the roads weren’t icy and there were no reports of injuries anywhere in Pulaski County due to motor vehicle accidents.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas either, with the weather,” she said. “It’s not snowing, it’s pretty nice outside, sunshine, it doesn’t feel like you’re missing anything.”

Whiteley said Christmas is usually quiet, but problems that do happen on Christmas tend to be family-related.

“I’ve noticed over the years there are a lot of people who get depressed and sad, and they want to hurt themselves or other people or families don’t get along. We get disturbances from time to time and that’s kind of sad on the holidays,” Whiteley said. “Unfotunately there are families that don’t get along, and there’s usually some spirits involved such as alcohol.”

Alcohol can be a major contributor to Christmas problems, said Sgt. Butch Hohman of the St. Robert Police Department. He’s worked 21 years for the St. Robert Police Department and was on duty every Christmas Day.

“Nationwide 1.4 million people get arrested for drunk driving every year,” Hohman said. “If you’re out there drinking and driving, you’re going to get caught just like everybody else.”

None of those alcohol or domestic violence problems happened this year in St. Robert or Waynesville, however, for which the police officers on duty in both cities said they were grateful.

“Typically Christmas is fairly quiet, but that is not always the case; it’s just the majority of the cases,” said Assistant Chief Clarence Liberty of the Waynesville Police Department.

Liberty, who has spent 11 years in law enforcement after retiring as an Army combat engineer, said he’s worked most Christmas shifts since becoming a police officer.

“I do this quite often,” Liberty said. “I’ve got more younger officers who have young kids, and mine are 14 and 20, so I felt that is the least that I could do to help them out.”

Liberty, whose shift began at 2 p.m., said he had his Christmas with his family earlier in the day. Liberty is well-known in local law enforcement for his skills detecting drunk drivers, and said he’ll be keeping a close eye for those on the road during the holiday season who’ve had a little too much holiday cheer for their own good — or the good of others on the road.

“If you’re going to drink, don’t drive,” Liberty said. “Wear your seat belt and be careful of the roads during bad weather.”

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