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Lisa Kimball and Her 'O-Scare'

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Ready for Ghoul School?

The Family that Cares Together Scares Together

By day, Matt Smith, 46, is the mild-mannered director of facilities for the ARC of Loudoun. He finds and recycles playground equipment for the disabled children that the ARC serves, works to patch the aged roof of the Paxton Manor and side buildings that house school and rehab facilities, and oversees the 17-acre campus. But inside, lurks a guy ARC of Loudoun CEO Lisa Kimball dubs “our haunt-meister.”

Matt is the heart, soul and brains behind Shocktober, a haunted house experience ranked fifth in the nation for thrill-value. Making a mark on this scale takes commitment. Lisa has spotted a bucket of blood in his office, and he’ll often take delivery of “body parts” through FedEx. Planning for the event ramps up in March, with an annual haunt convention in St. Louis, but truly begins with the post-show cast party that rates which bits evoked the most genuine horror from the thousands of attendees. Insiders call it the “O-Scares” and cherish awards for the most realistic performances.

If the house were actually haunted, that would be an advantage, but Matt says, “I don’t believe it. Then again, I grew up in a funeral home ,so nothing bothers me.”

Yep—think Six Feet Under. The family-owned Molthen-Bell and Son Funeral Home in Milwaukee spurred Matt’s first forays into fright.

“We played hide-and-seek down in the basement with the dead bodies. ... It took a while to get comfortable,” he says. 

Well beyond comfortable, Matt plays headmaster to “Ghoul School” in late September. It's a mandatory six-hour training for Shocktober's more than 300 volunteers ranging from the psychology of fright to what to do in case of emergency.

Actors may also train, “how to scream 500 times over the course of three or four hours and not destroy your throat,” Lisa says.

Most volunteers are local high-schoolers who receive credit for as many as 30 hours they contribute. Sometimes, those who may have trouble blending in or making friends blossom in the atmosphere of Shocktober’s fright family.

Lisa relates the case of one struggling teen whose parent made clear that becoming a member of a shock family could well have saved her child's life. Lifelong friendships are forged, along with deep appreciation that those served by ARC sometimes struggle even harder to fit in. 

By all accounts, it is an absolute blast. Now in its 10th year, this will mark the eighth season Crystal Mills, a pre-school teacher for the ARC, has participated with her daughter.

“I’m an easy-going person, but, like everybody, things go wrong or stress me out. I just put that away in what I pretend is a little box. Then, once a year people pay money for me to scare them to death. It releases all that stress and anything that bothers me,” Crystal says, then giggles. "I call it scare therapy."

She’ll be bringing to life “Park Ranger Randy” this year. He likes pets, especially skunks, and some might find his presence a bit...uncomfortable. Crystal says forthrightly what Lisa and Matt tried to soft-pedal.

“What some people see as strange ... we embrace.” Knowing you can entertain 20,000 people in just a few weeks while raising $600,000 or 10% of the ARC's budget is “uplifting and empowering.”

Sweetly, she adds, “You gain so much from it. And the first time you put a 6'4" dude down on the ground in the fetal position? That's priceless!" 

Shocktober runs Oct. 4-Nov. 2. The last Ghoul School takes place Sept. 28.

Shocktober.org/Volunteer | TheARCOfLoudoun.org

  • Crystal Mills Getting Her Scare On
  • Crystal Mills as Park Ranger Randy
  • Denise Daffron, Chief Development Officer
  • Lisa Kimball and Her 'O-Scare'
  • Haunt-meister Matt Smith