By DOTTY NIST
Community traditions hold a special meaning, even more so at Christmas and in a close-knit community like Point Washington.
Old Point Washington’s unique Wise Men Christmas display is up, adding inspiration to holiday celebrations in the historic Tucker Bayou-area hamlet. The display is composed of three painted wood panels over six feet in height, one devoted to each of the three Magi.
Now standing on CR-395 at the edge of the Cornerstone Assembly of God Church property near the Point Washington Community Cemetery, the Wise Men have been displayed in the community at Christmas time for a quarter-century or more. The display is not currently connected with any particular church, although lighting to illuminate the panels at night is provided through the generosity of Cornerstone Church.
The panels are original paintings by local artist Virginia Calumbo, who died two years ago in her late-80s. Virginia’s husband, the Rev. Michael J. Calumbo, now lives in Seagrove Beach.
“She was a terrific artist,” Calumbo said. He recalled that his wife had created the Wise Men in 1983 or 1984 during the six-year period he was pastor of Point Washington Methodist Church. Calumbo describes his wife of 50 years as a multi-talented lady who did many kinds of paintings, along with woodwork, calligraphy and also creative writing. He and Virginia had met when she was a student at the Chicago Art Institute and he was enrolled at Moody Bible College soon after finishing his World War II service in the U.S. Army.
“I miss her very much,” Calumbo said.
What reveals much about the Point Washington spirit is what has happened with the Wise Men over the past 25 years, as they have continued to be treasured and displayed each year as a community project.
Sisters Lorraine Morgan and Marie Marshall are the current custodians of the Wise Men. Morgan explained that for many years Ollie Sue Butler, a member of the Point Washington Methodist Church, carefully stored the panels at the top of her garage during the time they were not on display. Then, at some point, no one is sure of the exact year, Butler asked Margo Yourick, Morgan’s daughter, to take charge of the panels, which she did.
Yourick now lives near the Walton/Okaloosa county line at Lake Pippin, having moved away from Point Washington a number of years ago. Before leaving, she turned the Wise Men over to her mother and her aunt Marie, who store them on their Peach Creek property just east of Point Washington. Yourick returns home often, including once every year to help when the time comes to put up the Wise Men.
Knowing this history, and the one-of-a-kind nature of the display, it is easy to imagine the shock and distress among Point Washingtonites at an incident involving the Wise Men that took place last week. The Walton County Sheriff’s Office was alerted on the morning of Dec. 15 of damage to the display that had apparently occurred late the previous evening or in the early morning hours.
One of the display panels was found floating in the water of a small branch about a block to the east, between Dog Hobble Lane and Adam’s Way. One panel remained in place unharmed, and the other had been left partially pulled off and hanging from its stand. Whoever had been responsible for the destruction had vanished, but bicycle and four-wheeler tracks were observed in the sand around the display.
The missing panel was removed from the branch without discernable damage, and Lorraine Morgan’s son Clay and daughter-in-law Cindy went to work getting the display back in shape. All three Wise Men were back up on their stands before dark the same day, surrounded with evergreen tree trimmings.
The sheriff’s office has classified the incident as criminal mischief, and the case is still under investigation.