Legos ignite imaginations in a competition at Bixby

VERGENNES — Under the central dome of Vergennes’ Bixby Library on Thursday evening, the Justice League of America battled aliens atop a skyscraper, patrons wandered through a zoo, the schooner Lois McClure plied the waters of Lake Champlain, a submarine suffered a fatal attack from a villain, and a miniature Bixby echoed its bigger sibling.
And those were just some of the roughly 30 entries in what the Bixby and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes jointly billed as their first annual Lego Contest and Exhibit.
Boys & Girls Club Director Jill Strube and Bixby Youth Services Librarian Rachel Plant organized the competition after Strube saw in a newsletter that the Brattleboro Children’s Museum had been running a Lego contest for more than a decade.
“We saw they were advertising their 11th annual contest, and I called Rachel and said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’” Strube said. “And she was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to do this.’”
Plant was asked why she and the Bixby signed on for what she and Strube hope will become an annual tradition.
“Because it’s magic, and it’s living in your imagination, and it’s using your hands and imagination to make something that’s maybe only going to last a short time, but brings you joy and maybe joy to others. That’s why,” Plant said.
Of course, both sponsoring entities are always seeking ways to reach out to the communities they serve and to raise their profiles.
“I’ve had four or five people ask me tonight, ‘There’s a Boys & Girls Club in Vergennes?’” Strube said. “Which is great publicity for us.”
Because both Strube and Plant wore baseball hats featuring elaborate Lego structures on their brims during Thursday’s award ceremony, ulterior motives were also apparent.
“Other than that, it’s to have fun,” Strube said. “Because if it’s not fun, why do it?”
Plant noted most creators showed up at the Bixby on Thursday to display their offerings, and family members joined most of them — as they had earlier in the week when the works were dropped off.
“When I saw some of the entries come in, the people that accompanied the child bringing in the piece, it was multi-generational. There might have been a mom and dad in tow. There might have been a grandparent helping carry it. That made me happiest,” Plant said. “That made the whole experience really memorable. And you saw it again tonight at the awards. It was multi-generational, the hugs and the pride … and really appreciating what they all did.”
BOYS & GIRLS Club Director Jill Strube, left, and Bixby Youth Services Librarian Rachel Plant organized the first annual Lego Contest and Exhibit at Bixby. Below, Keegan Lisko shows off his winning entry which depicts a villian attacking a submarine. 
Independent photos/Andy Kirkaldy
The judges — Bixby Director Masha Harris and Vergennes Alderman Mark Koenig — had the tough task of picking winners, who received prizes that included Lego sets. 
Handicapping the kindergarten-to-second-grade field was especially tough, but the judges picked Keegan Lisko’s submarine attack for its creativity and interesting angles over competition that included a carefully crafted aircraft and an elaborate zoo.
In the pre-K category, Savannah Struhammer’s “On the Savannah” prevailed. It offered a safari truck and grazing animals in Africa, with Plant pointing out the polar bears were there to demonstrate the effects of climate change.
Georgia Kunkel’s miniature Bixby ruled in the grades 3 through 5 category. Plant received a surprise when the creator brought the work in earlier in the week. Plant asked Kunkel, a library regular, if Plant herself was in the miniature building.
“She put her fingers through the opening and plucked me out of her scenery and held me up,” Plant said “‘Of course you are,’ she said. That one’s going to stay with me.”
Kaleb Stearns ruled the grades 6-8 field with his skyscraper topped with a pitched battle between DC Comics heroes and green alien invaders. It included Batman and other characters scaling the building as well as another hero flying halfway up.
Matt Dematties, a 17-year-old Vergennes resident, prevailed in the high school division with his detailed, almost two-foot-long, recreation of the Lois McClure, an 18th-century schooner. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum built a full-size Lois McClure, and Dematties was inspired by a weeklong trip he took on the vessel.
“I like to build things, so I thought, ‘Hey, why not build a model and make it so you can look inside it and everything, and make it look realistic,” Dematties said. 
After a month and up to four hours or more a day of painstaking work, he was happy with the result, which included a functioning rudder.
“Most days I spent all my evenings doing this. I couldn’t stop,” said Dematties.
Dematties donated his prize back to the club and the library for use in next year’s event — which he plans to enter with a working Lego speaker and amp.
The mixed-age winners were Colton and Logan Reed, the child-adult team winners were Ashlynn and Pat Willwerth, and the adult winner was Dan Meehan, who built a hot rod with a working drive train and gearshift.
Strube said she enjoyed all the entries, most of which will remain on display at the library through March 9.
THIS BUSY ZOO built by Shawn Thurber Jr. was a strong entrant in the kindergarten-through-second-grade category in the First Annual Lego Contest, sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes and the Bixby Library.
Independent photo/Andy Kirkaldy
“I thought they were amazing, absolutely amazing. Everyone brought their unique perspective,” she said. “And I love the fact we had everyone from pre-K up to seniors participate. That was the best thing. Because Legos are in my opinion universal. I still play with Legos.”
Plant, unsurprisingly, had a soft spot for the kids’ efforts. She had a chance to talk with the creators when they brought in their works.
“They just told me the whole story about their piece. And what was so nice was they looked me directly in the eye, and they had huge smiles,” Plant said. “It’s like having a little kid read a book to you, but they made it all themselves, but it’s in 3-D.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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