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Festival attendees enjoy another "Children's Hour"


Norma Champion and David Harrison made an August 27, 10:30 a.m. presentation that gave attendees another chance to enjoy a "Children's Hour."

Champion, 91, introduced Harrison after explaining to the younger members of the audience who she is.

Better known locally as "Aunt Norma," she has had a lot of experience keeping kids' attention thanks to 29 years as a host of KY3's locally produced show "Children's Hour."

And she continues to engage children wherever she meets them.

"It's fun to talk to young people. I love being a friend of young people and talking to them. I think it's very important to interact with the younger generation because that's how they learn," Champion said.

Her tenure at KY3 as the second host of "Children's Hour" began in 1957, continuing until the show's finale in 1986. Over the course of those years, she accumulated thousands of nieces and nephews.

When she was not addressing the children in their homes, she was talking to two puppet co-hosts: Skinny McGinnis and Rusty Rooster.

Since Skinny McGinnis, a boy wearing a tall hat, was on the show from the start, he had tenure over her by three years.

"He was one of the few puppets around because they weren't doing many puppets then," Champion said.

Rusty Rooster came later and got his start in KY3's live commercials with Claudia Cox performing his voice. However, when she went on vacation, Fred Rains, who did Skinny's voice, took on double duty.

Champion said Rains was a veteran stage actor in New York and brought that experience to bear as he tried to sound like Claudia Cox who was trying to sound like a rooster.

She said one of Rusty Rooster's trademark lines "Blow out the candles" is still said as Rains said it at birthday parties in the KY3 viewing area. And she does a recognizable Rusty imitation herself.

Rusty's other easily remembered line was "Roll it, Clinton," which let KY3 engineer Clinton Deason know to start the Warner Brothers cartoons.

Originally, a weekday show that welcomed kids home from school, "Children's Hour" moved to its Saturday-only time slot.

Champion said "Children's Hour" got on the air because of the Federal Trade Commission's requirement for a certain number of hours of children's programming in order for KY3 to keep its broadcasting license.

Consequently, management did not pressure her about ratings or content since the show served a necessary purpose. And they did not require her to be a television show expert.

"When I took the show, I didn't know a blessed thing about television. I had never even been in a TV studio," Champion said.

She got the job partially by accident after calling the studio to inquire about any jobs that were available. Carl Fox thought she was applying for the host of "Children's Hour."

She went along with it and auditioned in his office by showing how she would sell toothpaste for a commercial and by reading a children's book.

A week or so later after the auditions of a few other candidates, Champion landed the job and was promised training on how to host a television show, training that never took place.

"They didn't tell me how to put it together. I didn't have a budget. They really didn't care, and it took me years to figure out why they didn't care (the FTC requirement), but it made perfect sense," Champion said.

She said the crew originally did not like working on the show and drew straws to see who would be the unlucky ones to work on "Kid Hour." However, that changed.

"Pretty soon they were knocking themselves out. I can't tell you how wonderful that crew was," Champion said.

Despite her lack of experience and the station's hands off approach to the show, "Children's Hour" lasted for 29 years.

"It succeeded anyway because there were so many children in a 100-mile radius that were home after school with nothing to do because they didn't have all the activities for kids they do now. And they were in rural areas, and areas where they didn't live close to other children ... It worked perfectly," Champion said.

Her résumé goes far beyond children's programming, but always features a focus on children.

At 16, she was already a Bluebird leader and later, a camp counselor.

As a pastor's wife for 40 years, she led Children's Church and did crafts with them, a good preparation for "Children's Hour."

As an Evangel University professor for 32 years, a Springfield city councilwoman for five years, a state representative for 10 years, and a state senator for seven years, Champion kept an eye out for opportunities to help kids.

For example, the Children in Crisis Tax Credit was renamed the Champion for Children Tax Credit to honor her work on the issue.

And she has another goal that, in part, was brought about by the macular degeneration she has had since she was 61.

"I am learning about me and what I need to work on and what I need to do better at, and what I'm working on now specifically is I'm working on patience. Because of my vision, I don't read anymore, but I discovered a radio station out of Houston, Texas, that does lots and lots of reading of the Bible ... I'm being a student again and spending a lot of time learning more about the word and just learning and growing and trying to improve myself a bit," Champion said.

Asked to look back at her life and determine of what she is most proud, Champion narrowed it down to one factor.

"I am really most proud of the fact that I simply took the next step as the Lord directed me. All I did was take the next step, and the Lord tells us that if we look to him, he will direct our footsteps, and that's what he's done. I am most proud of the fact that I had the good sense to do it," Champion said.

As for her success with "Children's Hour," she said, "The timing was right. I came together with the children, and we had a wonderful time," Champion said.

At the presentation, Champion did not read a story to the children present as she did on "Children's Hour."

Instead, she introduced the State of Missouri's Poet Laureate David L. Harrison who read from some of his many works.

Harrison, 87, has one degree of separation from Champion, whom he has known for years.

Harrison's son, Jeff, appeared on "Children's Hour," but Aunt Norma had to ask him to leave because he was too big of a talker.

"Norma told my wife the rest of the kids don't have a chance," Harrison said.

And as a young trombonist in the 1950s, he too appeared on an early live KY3 broadcast and got to perform a solo to end a show that was running short.

Harrison, who lives in Srpingfield, has published 108 books of his own poetry, fiction and non-fiction primarily for children but also for their parents. Some of his work has appeared in anthologies as well.

His first book of fiction was "A Boy with a Drum." Harrison read a portion of his second book "Little Turtle's Big Adventure," which was featured on another children's show "Captain Kangaroo" when it too hit the bookshelves in 1969.

Although his writing career began with fiction, he has written more poetry books with another one "Wild Brunch" in the works.

"Somewhere along the way, I realized my real love is for poetry," he said.

He is Missouri's first Poet Laureate to be a children's poet. His term runs for two years ending in 2025. And he has been Drury University's Poet Laureate since 1983.

"I'm a storyteller. I think a very good story has a very wide range of appeal. I write with young people in mind ... My charge as the state Poet Laureate is to make poetry more accessible to more people and try to attract more people to read it, write it, share it," Harrison said.

His first book of poetry was "Somebody Catch My Homework," a work he said was written when the publishing industry was looking for children's literature to be read for the fun of reading rather than to educate or be a part of a teacher's lesson plan.

The audience applauded and laughed for his humorous poetry as well as for his turtle tale.

He has done other things: a trombonist in a Springfield symphony in the 1950s, pharmacologist in Indiana in the 1960s, Hallmark Cards editor for 10 years, Glenstone Block Company owner for 27 years and co-owner of Gamble's Gifts until 2018.

However, it is his writing career that has had the most significant impact on him. What he said about it could also be said of Champion's role as Aunt Norma.

"I couldn't imagine anything else. It has become me," Harrison said.


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