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Youngster carves out honor with his pumpkin creation

An artsy, soft-spoken fourth-grader with a small carving knife used steady, deliberate strokes Friday to turn a 300-pound pumpkin into a Halloween masterpiece. Oliver Lester, 9, won the carving honor when his drawing of a jack-o-lantern was judged best among the pupils at Leila Davis Elementary School in Clearwater. Natalie Linder, 9, and Abby Weingarten, 10, got the messy job of cleaning out the pumpkin.

"It was gooey and squishy," Natalie said.

She guessed the pumpkin had between 50 and 100 seeds. Abby said Natalie was way off. "I'd say about 500 seeds," Abby said.

The gigantic pumpkin was donated to the school by the youth group at Heritage United Methodist Church next door.

Some of Oliver's classmates decided after the carving was complete that the pumpkin looked like Dustin Hofeling, 9, who had been sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front row while Oliver worked his magic.

"Maybe, kind of," Dustin agreed.

"I think it looks like Dr. Meils when we don't get our homework," said Sophia Raff, 9.

Elaine Meils is the fourth-graders' teacher.

Principal Archie Miller watched the carving proceedings from the back of the classroom.

"Being an old Indiana farm boy, I used to see them at the Indiana State Fair." To get pumpkins to grow so large, "you insert milk and sugar water into the stem someway," Miller said.

Oliver said he was thrilled when his name was announced as the winner of the drawing contest. But carving the pumpkin with its 7-inch-thick sides was not as easy as he thought it would be.

"It was hard to carve," Oliver said. "The thickness of it made it hard, and the knife wasn't very sharp."

After the carving, the jack-o-lantern was taken on a cart to the school's lobby, where it will be on display through the Halloween season.