Gift-giving without a violent theme was part of the mood at Christmastime in 1987, much like it probably has become this year. Shoppers were seeking out the traditional toys and gifts, as well as the ultramodern items of the late 1980s. When the shopping was done, one could join in on a caroling tour in the Otsdawa area of Otego.

We grimly know what has taken place in 2012 in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. Local anti-war toy activists were busy 25 years ago, promoting the idea that many children’s toys express violence and escalate the idea of killing. The activists were trying to convert buyers of potentially violent gifts to mind-challenging and creative gifts.

“If an adult gives war toys to a child, it’s like the parent is saying violence is OK,” said Jerry Kabat, then a member of Oneonta’s Elm Park United Methodist Church.

Dorothy Fielder, a member of Oneonta’s First United Methodist Church, said violent toys seem to make the idea of killing less realistic and easier to handle.

“If you’re treating killing like a game, kids are thinking of it that way. That’s not realistic,” Fielder told The Daily Star.

Members of a local women’s peace group, Peace Links, along with other church members in the area, handed out nearly 4,000 leaflets the day after Thanksgiving, suggesting other gift-buying options. Phil Young participated in handing out the leaflets, and said that after some read them they went back to a store and returned the toys they had put on lay away.

Kabat said the toy industry had an obligation to produce items that will enhance a child’s well-being.

“I think it was Gandhi who said, ‘You’ve got to have commerce with a conscience.’ People in the toy-making industry have to look at themselves and what they’re doing.”

As for gift-giving and toys in general in 1987, the Star said, “Toy shoppers are seeking out both the traditional and the ultramodern, according to local store managers.”

“On the traditional side, people are buying Tonka Toys at Ames, board games at Jamesway Discount Center, play kitchen sets at Kmart ... and Nichols ... and Barbie dolls plus accessories at Bresee’s Oneonta Department Store.

“Probably the star of the Christmas season is the television character Alf, which is available in several different models including one that talks.”

Besides toys, coffeepots, microwaves and videocassette players were selling well at most of the stores. A new model of the Dust Buster was a hot item at Bresee’s, as were woks.

If one needed relief from shopping, a short journey to Otego might offer such respite.

“Lynwood and Irene Simonds thought they might break tradition this year and not make the hay wagon Christmas caroling tour of their Otsdawa neighborhood, passing out cookies and candy and singing Christmas carols,” the Star reported Monday, Dec. 14. During the past March a fire had destroyed the Simonds’ home and they weren’t settled in their new place.

“But their children and neighbors wouldn’t let them get away with it, and organized the ride themselves in just two days’ time.” The Simonds led the ride of about 25 local children and adults on Sunday afternoon, with Santa Claus as a special passenger.

“About halfway through you wonder why you’re doing it,” said Irene Simonds, “and then you see people’s faces and you know.”

This weekend: Oneonta stepped up its cultural life in 1887.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Great Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Great Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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