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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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A house full of Christmas joy

By Barry Schrader.................................December 15, 2009

As a child growing up in DeKalb County, a December shopping trip to Marshall Fields in Chicago was a tradition I will always cherish. My mother would drive to the “L” train station in Brookfield and from there it was a fascinating ride to the Loop.
When we got to the store, the first thing to do was marvel at each window decorated with animated holiday scenes and then go inside and maybe stop for a bite to eat at the Walnut Room. But the big multi-story tree was awesome to behold and, next to the toy department, was my favorite attraction. Of course, I was too old to stand in line to visit Santa but couldn’t resist a peek at the jolly old elf with a line of children (and mothers) awaiting a turn on his knee.
It has been more than half a century since those delightful holiday shopping trips, but the memory was rekindled last week when I got to visit the home of

David Miner sits next to one of his newest creations featuring the Nutcracker ballet on stage. Above that is one of four large dollhouses he has built for his Christmas displays.

David Miner, a retired Waterman High science teacher and lifetime resident of DeKalb. Miner has lived in the same house on Normal Road since 1949 when he and his late parents moved in when it was not even completely built.
Miner and his late father always had a knack for building things, some with wood and others mechanical. But it wasn’t until 1996, a few years after his father’s death, that he really got into constructing Christmas scenes and model dollhouses in a big way. That hobby has blossomed into a year round project that culminates each holiday season with decorations and layouts that fill all nine rooms on three floors of his home. He shares them each year with friends, neighbors and family and Kay and I were fortunate to receive an invitation for a tour this month.
You generally begin in his basement where a 6-foot long barn with several sections for Santa’s toy workshop fill the center of the room. Animated figures include elves busily preparing for the sleigh ride on Christmas Eve. Most of the figures are handmade and mechanically operated by small motors. Then in another basement room is a complete village with a one-room country school, rural church, general store, working mill with a wheel that runs, and other buildings he designed.
Climbing the stairs to the second floor you view each room featuring layouts that are lighted, animated and include objects from his childhood or that hold some special meaning to his family. In one room is a small stage that was built by his uncle in 1929, eventually finding its way from Kansas City to DeKalb many years ago and stored in Miner’s attic. This year he finished refurbishing the display which now features a ballerina doll doing a pirouette in the Nutcracker ballet, revealed as a miniature stage curtain is opened.
Asked which was my favorite exhibit, I had to choose the attic layout. You sit on a 1-foot tall stool and look through an opening into a small attic which is designed like a children’s playroom with all the toys, games, and even a table with bowls of popcorn.
My other favorite is the 6-foot high wooden Christmas tree in the living room with revolving platforms holding some 100 decorations, lights and toys that were either picked up at antique shops, garage sales or made by Miner.
It is impossible to describe all the wonders throughout the house. I asked if the Chronicle could videotape a few of the displays to put on its Web site, which should be loaded by now so those with computer access can get a better idea of what it looks like.
Miner spends about 500 hours each year assembling and setting up things and then disassembling and storing the displays. He said it has become such a time-consuming project that he has begun doing it only every other year.
When asked why he does all this, he quotes Kris Kringle from the movie classic “Miracle on 34th Street” saying “Christmas is not just a day, it is a frame of mind.” I can believe Miner is in the right frame of mind all year long.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115