June 04, 2023


Museum uses its historical backdrops to display almost 200 Christmas trees

Christmas comes early at the Jasper County Historical Museum. By the time children begin writing down their wish lists for Santa, and before their parents deck out the home with colorful light displays, the volunteers of the local museum will have already decorated more than 175 trees throughout the facility.

Historical artifacts and displays unique to the region serve as a backdrop for the Tree-mendous Christmas Experience, a new holiday tradition founded by the board members of the museum. With boxes upon boxes of holiday decorations at their disposal, volunteers spend months preparing for this important fundraiser.

Dave Rorabaugh, a longtime board member, said it takes about five months to get all the trees decorated. Volunteers go all out to make sure every nook and cranny in the museum is filled with holiday ornaments and decorations, and to do that takes time. Like last year, they began working on the event in August.

With aspirations to improve the holiday-inspired event this year, Rorabaugh said the museum mailing more flyers and attempting to reach more families outside of Jasper County. Ultimately, the event serves as a fundraiser for the museum and is also a way for families to enjoy themselves during the holidays.

The museum unveiled the inaugural Tree-mendous Christmas Experience last year, to great success. Larry Hurto, a volunteer for the museum, said more than 1,000 people visited the event, which was supported by 33 sponsors. Organizers are aiming for at least 40 sponsors and even more visitors than before.

“We had people come in from out of town, out of county, out of state,” Hurto said. “But what really tickled us — and this is contrary to what our purpose was — is people tried to look behind the trees at some of the displays. There were people that had never been here before or it had been years.”

Community response to the event was well-received, too. Several people had even donated their old trees and decorations leading up to the inaugural event, and that has since continued into the second year. Hurto could not believe the turnout of last year, particularly when traffic was backed up.

“People have come out of the woodwork just because of the that magic that is Christmas,” Hurto said. “With our publicity, we want folks to have the sense that it’s a professional looking job. The words that we heard more than any other from a lot of folks was that the display was ‘staggering’ or ‘overwhelming.’”

Keeping the community in mind, the volunteers have come up with ways to get residents involved as much as the business sponsors. Diane Dafflitto, secretary of the museum’s board of directors, said a tree near the Herman Deaton diorama will have gold and silver star ornaments featuring departed loved ones’ names.

“They’re about 17 inches across. Hopefully we have a light coming through the star so that it’s lit, and then have a name of a person there,” Dafflitto said, noting the silver stars will represent the past directors the museum. “The public will have the rest. It is like the memorial tree we had last year on the second floor.”

The memorial tree was adorned with 40 hand-decorated ornaments and it was used by the public to honor family member or friend who passed away.

“It was very popular last year,” Dafflitto said. “This year it’s right off the lobby and it’s a main focal point down there.”

Ken Barthelman, executive director of the Jasper County Historical Museum, said the Tree-mendous Christmas Experience also draws attention to museum itself. He hopes when families come through the facility during the holidays that they’ll want to return when the museum is open.

“People just have no clue how much we have in here,” he said. “They’ll come in from the north side and the building looks very small. If they don’t go all the way around the corner, they don’t see it’s a two-story building. And it is just packed with Jasper County. We don’t do national stuff. It’s all Jasper County.”

Hosting a holiday event shows not only the community but out-of-town visitors that the museum is not just some building on a corner.

“There are things here that they should come see,” Barthelman said. “And the trees are wonderful, too! It’s a great thing to walk in and see all the Christmas trees. It’s inspiring.”

Tree-mendous Christmas Experience will be held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from. Dec. 2 to Jan. 1. The museum will be open 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. For group visits, call the Jasper County Historical Museum, 1700 S. 15th Ave. W., at 641-792-9118.

It is a $5 entry per person. Children ages 7 and under can enter free. Memorial stars cost $100. Sponsors interested in participating in the event should contact the museum. All proceeds from the fundraiser will go towards to operation costs of the museum.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.