October 26, 2021

Year-round effort brings holiday cheer

Photos by Joe McInyre/staff photographer

Barbara Rosevear’s lawn shines in the night thanks to her latest holiday display.

DRYDEN — Barbara Rosevear would love for her 9-foot blow-up “Despicable Me” Minion to grace her front lawn — home to her massive Christmas light display on Route 13 in Dryden.

But the inflatable Christmas decoration, now in vogue, cannot handle the wind that whips along Route 13.

“I found him out in the ditch,” said Rosevear, a retired Cornell University employee who works part-time at Michael’s craft store in the Pyramid Mall in Lansing. And that, despite his four anchors!

“His name is Carl,” she said of the gigantic yellow character that could be a balloon in the Macy’s parade. For now, he’s living in her garage.

Rosevear, 65, has been decorating her front lawn off Route 13, next door to Hopshire Farms brewery, with Christmas lights for 40 years. She has more than 225 illuminated statues as it is — Santas, mini Santas, toy soldiers, bears with Santa hats, reindeer, angels, snowmen, elves, a row of candles leading to her stoop, bells, a menorah, a manger, and four snowflakes.

Most of the decorations are made from blow mold plastic, Rosevear said. The bears are clustered. So are the santas and the mini santas. Rosevear sticks to the same pattern pretty much. On the side of her yard, she has candy canes, reindeer and sleigh.

“It kind of jumps out on you,” said Tim Laurence of Groton, a musician and caregiver. “You are driving along, not seeing anything and all of a sudden — Bam! — there’s this house decorated, out of control, over the top!”

“The reason I do it, people enjoy it,” Rosevear said. “I know it’s as tacky as all get out. One lady said, ‘I don’t like it.’ One lady said ‘I work in Ithaca and drive from and to Cortland every day. When I reach your house, I know I am half way home.’ It’s why I do it.”

She celebrates all the other holidays with light-up figures and decorations on her front lawn: Flag Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter.

“I have noticed it for a long time, driving up and down that street,” Laurence said. “Wow, this woman goes all out for all these holidays every year. I say, ‘Where does she store all this stuff?’ “

Rosevear stows her decorations in her basement, which is jampacked with special lights, regular lights, LED lights, each holiday with its own area. There are Easter figures in one spot and Halloween decorations in another in her 24- by 40-foot space. A stack of candy canes was in one corner.

“The candy canes didn’t go out this year. I did something different,” she said.

The display features more than 225 illuminated pieces.

Over the years, she’s donated a manger scene to a church in Etna and Mary, Joseph and Jesus figures to another church.

“I like all of them,” she said. A favorite is a Nativity scene on the front lawn, “because it is Christmas.” Over the years, people have left her anonymous notes in her mailbox — “thank you for the wonderful Christmas lights.”

Rosevear doesn’t know how much her lights cost.

It takes a week to get all the Christmas decorations out, said helper Nancy Huffmann, Rosevear’s neighbor and good friend, who calls herself a “Jewish elf.”

“We do it in stages. And put it away in stages,” Huffmann said.

“It’s very labor intensive,” Rosevear said. “This year, Nancy had to work. I had some boys come and help me.”

The deal: Move the figures from basement to yard and pound rebar. Repeat.

“I am happy to spread the elfdom,” Huffmann said.

“The last thing is making sure the lights are all on. I will call her and say, there’s a Santa light out,” Huffmann said.

In honor of Huffmann, Rosevear has a giant menorah on the lawn, which the two friends dedicated to Nancy’s only son, Josh, who died in 2003.

From left, Mike Rosevear, Nancy Huffmann and Barb Rosevear. Photo by Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Each night during Hanukkah, Huffmann calls over to the couple to remind them to light one new light on the menorah.

“I grew up in Scranton,” Rosevear said. “I grew up in the country. We’d go down to Scranton and look at all the houses with all the lights. Kids memories. I’ve always enjoyed it. Then we moved to Ithaca,” she said.

Her ex-husband bought a Santa, sled and reindeer for the lawn and that was the start of it, she said. “I bought more and more after the holidays.”

She hits up yard sales, estate sales and a list of stores after Christmas that sell decorations for half off or better, she said.

“When I grew up, being Jewish, we didn’t have a Christmas tree,” Huffmann said. She too, would drive the neighborhoods, looking at the lights.

“For me, having a hand in it, it’s lovely. I feel I am part of this long lasting tradition,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, I saw the menorah.’ “

The joke in Rosevear’s family is that when she dies, the kids are melting down the decorations and making them into a headstone.

“All the kids have followed the tradition. They have gotten lights from Barb and will make amazing memories,” said Huffmann. “Whether Christian or Jew, when you put it up in the yard, every time I do this, and it’s freezing. I think of kids.”

“Why am I doing this?” Rosevear asks herself. “I am crazy for doing it. I am going to break a neck or a leg.”

“Barb and I also ring the bells for the Salvation Army,” Huffmann said. “It’s a labor of love.”