Toy Fund: Trivia group’s tradition of giving endures

Last modified: Monday, December 16, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Everyone knows the holidays are filled with traditions, and the same goes for many of the donations that arrive each year to support the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

One toy fund tradition that remains strong is an annual gift from a group of Hampshire County women who have been meeting regularly for more than two decades to play Trivial Pursuit, the popular board game that emerged in the 1980s.

Known as the Trivial Pursuit Friends, the group of mostly retired women once numbered more than 20, but these days are about 14 players who meet at each other’s homes on Monday nights to socialize, have fun and test their knowledge of trivia.

These women once exchanged gifts during the holidays, but that changed in 1997 when one of their members, Marilyn Drabek, died. In honor of their dear friend, who loved and worked with children as a former nurse at JFK Middle School in Northampton, the women made a donation to the toy fund in Drabek’s memory. A tradition was born.

“We used to exchange gifts and then we decided to do it for other people — kids,” said Nancy B. Sheehan of Northampton, who has been playing with the group for more than two decades.

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the fund gives certificates redeemable at participating retailers to eligible families around the holidays. The Gazette works with Berkshire Children and Families to administer the fund and process applications, freeing up all donations to go to certificates given to families in need.

Just as Trivial Pursuit revolves around subjects and themes, there is a common denominator among the Trivial Pursuit Friends. Many are retired teachers and mothers and have spent their personal and professional lives around children.

“It’s always good to remember the children at Christmas,” said Nancy Harrington of Northampton, a former curriculum coordinator and teacher in the Northampton schools. “I think it’s a good cause.”

This year, the group donated $50 to the toy fund in memory of Drabek and four other members of their group who have died during the past decade. They are Marilyn Parsons, a former kindergarten teacher; Freda Ostberg, a teacher’s aide who was remembered as one of the liveliest of the trivia group; Mary Crane, who taught Latin in high school; and Mary McClure, a former teacher who died in May.

“We all felt it was something we needed to do,” Harrington said. “We wanted to remember them, and it seemed like something they would appreciate. Most of them had children of their own.”

Neither Sheehan or Harrington could nail down an exact date when their social group first began meeting weekly, but in 2000 they had been playing together for at least 10 years, according to a Gazette article at the time. Trivial Pursuit, a game created by two Canadian men, took the United States by storm in the 1980s, peaking in 1984 when 20 million copies of the game were sold.

Although the group’s activities center around Trivial Pursuit and other trivia games, they mix it up now and then and go out to celebrate each other’s birthdays or, as Harrington put it, “sometimes we just sit and talk.” Sheehan said the group has played through several editions of Trivial Pursuit over the years and revisits some of the earlier ones from time to time. Next Monday, the friends are meeting for their holiday party, at which time they may play holiday trivia, testing their knowledge of subjects like Christmas carols, holiday movies and traditions.

“It’s amazing the things you don’t know about the holidays,” Harrington said.

The Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression, and today distributes vouchers to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette at 115 Conz St., Northampton, MA 01060, the Gazette bureau at 100 University Drive, Amherst, MA 01002, or made online at www.gazettenet.com. Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.