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12-16-02: Christmas rings out at Celina residence
The Daily Standard

    Traffic creeps by 638 N. Cherry St. these days as people admire the elaborate Christmas display at the home of Bernard "Barney" and Mary Sudhoff. Sometimes they make two passes along the front of the property before heading down the alley to catch a glimpse of the backyard decorations.
    The Celina couple established a holiday tradition 39 years ago by putting up several strings of lights at their first home on Carmel Church Road. Sub-sequent moves to Fairground Road and then North Cherry Street provided new venues for even more Yuletide trappings.
    "We started the Christmas after we got married and we've been doing it every year with the exception of one," Mary Sudhoff says. "That was four years ago when Huffy's closed its doors. I worked there 34 years, and I couldn't get into the spirit of Christmas that year."
    Decorating begins a week or two before Thanksgiving as the couple deck the interior as well as the exterior of their spacious home. They pay particular attention to the weather forecast, hoping to complete the outdoor work before temperatures dip and snow flies.
    "Last year I was out in the yard in shorts," she points out with a chuckle. "The weather was simply beautiful < we could not have ordered better. This year it turned cold early and we've already had three snows."
    The couple work together in the yard arranging and rearranging the decorations with nary a cross word or a scowl. Everything from the Wise Men to Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus is staked to prevent the lighted characters from moving to parts unknown when chilly winds blow. The same goes for angels, gingerbread men, carolers, a veritable herd of reindeer and the steepled church complete with faux stained glass windows.
    Barney Sudhoff, an employee of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in St. Marys, used to know how many lights were in the display but he quit counting a long time ago. He had the house completely rewired two years ago to keep the circuits from blowing.
    Extension cords snake through the grass in both the front and back yards with 20 to 30 timers controlling the display that dispels the nighttime darkness. Lights come on between 5 and 5:30 p.m. and go off five hours later, beginning the day after Thanksgiving and continuing through Dec. 30.
    "We've only had problems with vandals one year," Mary Sudhoff recalls. "Barney went out to turn on the lights and discovered the bulbs in the backyard were gone."
    New decorations are added each year with the theme ranging from whimsical to religious to patriotic. Two large American flags depicted in red, white and blue lights were added last year in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy that claimed several thousand lives.
    This year an inflatable Christmas tree complete with a bright yellow star joined the ranks, making itself at home near the beautifully landscaped fountain in back.
    "One of the neighbor ladies watches the tree as well as Santa Claus inflate every night," Mary Sudhoff says. "I find myself watching from time to time. It's like they spring to life right before your eyes. There is nothing more beautiful than to sit in the house and watch snowflakes falling outside."
    A talking wreath greets unsuspecting visitors headed to the front door while a life-size Santa figure in a red velvet suit sings while shaking his hips in Elvis fashion.
    The Sudhoffs, who wait to purchase decorations during after-Christmas sales, have seen numerous changes in lights over the years. Large colored bulbs that were once the rage have slipped from favor to be replaced by icicle and rope lights.
    "Colored lights are nice but the all-white lights are my pick," she says. "A foreign exchange student came to visit one year and I mentioned there were more white than colored lights in the house and out in the yard. The people in her homeland believe white light is what Christmas is all about. I like that philosophy."
    The Sudhoffs parked a full-size sleigh in their yard for many years. Mary Sudhoff donned a bright red Santa Claus suit and a snow white beard to talk with children and to distribute treats.  Sometimes the ensuing line extended around the corner. Letters invariably showed up in the mailbox addressed to Santa Claus in care of 638 N. Cherry St. She quit portraying the jovial North Pole resident after breaking a leg several years ago.
    "I miss sitting out there in the sleigh and meeting the children," she admits with a sigh. "The truth is my bones can't take the cold like they used to."
    A stranger knocked on the door one year and asked to use the sleigh as a setting for a marriage proposal. He put a jeweler's box containing the diamond ring in the sleigh and went off to get his beloved. Mary Sudhoff kept watch over the sleigh fearing someone might come up and steal the ring in his absence.
    "We didn't know the fellow and we still don't," she says. "He lifted his girl into the sleigh and got down on one knee to propose. Then he slipped the ring on her finger. Everybody here in the house was all eyes."
    The couple, who have four children and nine grandchildren, built a new two-car garage onto the front of their existing garage two years ago. The original garage is used for storing Christmas decorations. Everyhing that doesn't go into the huge mound of bags winds up in garbage boxes suspended from bicycle hooks installed on the ceiling.
    "This is heaven compared to dragging everything out of the basement," Barney Sudhoff says. "That was way too much work considering the number of decorations we have."
    Mary Sudhoff, who admits to having a weakness when it comes to Christmas, also decorates her home, from the kitchen and bedrooms to the bathrooms and the patio, for the holiday. Even the basement and enclosed back porch are pleasing to the eye.
    People often ask the Sudhoffs why they go to so much bother or willingly pay roughly $30 more for electric during the holiday season.
    "It's our Christmas gift to the community," he says. "The display has become a tradition for several generations in some families. The decorations keep bringing them back year after year. We plan to keep giving them something to see as long as we're able."


Phone: (419)586-2371,   Fax: (419)586-6271
All content copyright 2002
The Standard Printing Company
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822