MARY JANE SKALA Hub Staff Writer
KEARNEY – A chubby, jolly life-sized Santa welcomes guests to the parlor of Nick and Jessica Keizer’s 134-year-old Victorian/East Lake-style home.
Nearby is a 3-meter high Christmas tree decorated with vintage ornaments.
On the long, skinny dining room table, every seat is covered with a little Santa Claus hat that holds a knife, fork, and spoon. On the third floor of the house, rumor has it, writing began for the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution that introduced the income tax.
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See that and more on the Holiday Home Tour, which returns on December 3 after a two-year COVID-19 absence. Six homeowners in the area will be inviting the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to see their displays of Christmas trees, Santas, angels, stockings, antique keepsakes, and more.
The tour is a fundraiser for the HelpCare Clinic, which provides free medical care to low-income people in Buffalo and Kearney counties. The event represents nearly one-fourth of the clinic’s annual operating costs, according to Lisa Guthrie, the clinic’s executive director.
“We are excited to bring the Holiday Home Tour in person this year,” said Guthrie.
The Emperors are delighted to be a part of it. They bought their 4,000-square-foot house five years ago, moving from a house of only 800 square feet. “When we moved here, we didn’t have enough furniture,” Jessica said.
The house has original wooden floors and high ceilings and wooden frames around the windows. The Emperors are still remodeling it, but they’ve removed the wallpaper and painted the walls in the living room a deep plum hue.
They have collected vintage period collectibles over the years. That life-sized Santa used to wave from the second-floor balcony of Jessica’s parents, Marc and Roberta Loescher, who live nearby.
The Emperors’ 10-foot-tall Christmas tree also sparkles with vintage ornaments. “I pick these up everywhere — garage sales, thrift stores,” she said. She’s found other memorabilia just by “digging through a barn.”
Delightful antiques spread like snowflakes across the first floor. In a window sill are a cheerful Mr. and Mrs. Claus from the vintage era. On a small children’s table is a plate ready to be filled with cookies for Santa Claus and a matching mug.
The long, narrow table in the dining room was from TruCafe, which the Loeschers owned until their retirement a few years ago. Roberta Loescher created the decorative Christmas hats in each place, as well as the colorfully decorated stockings that hung from the banister in the entrance.
A weathered deacon pew, also originally owned by the Loeschers, stands in the foyer with a Rustic Patch seasonal cushion. In the kitchen, tour-goers can see a Department 56 Christmas village.
Jessica owns Evo Salon. Nick works at Patriot Equipment in Minden. They have two sons, Olie, 9, and Otto, 6.
“We’ve lived here for five years now and we’re still upgrading and making it our own,” Jessica said.
“The Holiday Home Tour is a great opportunity to raise money and spread information about the HelpCare Clinic,” she added.
The tour shows both old and new homes. The newest was built 18 months ago by Austin Gardine of Midwest Elite Builders for retirees Mary and David Riggs, who moved to Kearney from Denver in June 2021.
“We just wanted a bigger place,” Mary said. “In Denver, we had a small, 9,000-square-foot bungalow near Washington Park with one bedroom.”
The Riggs’ traditional Christmas decorations include an eight-foot-tall Christmas tree, bows, and greenery, along with a vintage desktop Santa assortment that the couple has collected. One of them is handmade from a chocolate mould.
The couple chose the lot and designed the house, working with architect Eric Holt, a professor of industrial arts from 2013 to 2015 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, who is now a residential design/remodeling consultant and business owner and a faculty member. at the University of Denver.
This open-concept home is nearly twice the size of their Denver home, but “it’s not huge,” said Mary. It remains inviting and cozy with three bedrooms and three bathrooms on the main floor.
Tour-goers will notice a barn-style walk-in closet and door, along with traditional casual and farmhouse furnishings. Large windows circle around the dining table. The backsplash tile in the kitchen matches the tile around the fireplace in the living room. The Midwest Elite staff, including Austin Gardine, Josh Griffith, and Sarah Ledbetter, helped with wall colors, countertops, tile, and flooring.
Relative newcomers to Kearney, the pair heard about the Holiday Home Tour from the Midwest Elite staff. “I’m looking forward to it,” Mary said. Floral decorations are done by Divas at Kearney Floral with help from the Rustic Patch.
Born in Beatrice, David grew up in St. Edward, a small town in Boone County not far from Albion. He then moved to Denver, where he met Mary, a fourth-generation Denverite. After retirement, David wanted to return to Nebraska: “I wanted the wide open spaces, a smaller city with fewer restrictions and no traffic,” he said.
Both work part-time – Mary at Pumpkin Patch Kindergarten and Daycare at First United Methodist Church, and David at the Loper Spirit store in UNK. Before she retired, Mary ran a day care center in her home. David worked at a corporate level in the printing and postal industry.
The Holiday Home Tour, which has been held for more than 25 years, provides nearly one-fourth of HelpCare Clinic’s annual operating costs, Guthrie said. Over the past four years, it has grossed a total of $100,000.
That figure includes donations from the two drive-by tours in 2020 and 2021 when COVID was raging, but revenue from those tours was about a quarter of what the in-person events bring in.
“We are excited to bring the Holiday Home Tour in person this year,” said Guthrie. “We are able to meet the medical needs of our friends and neighbors who would normally have gone without medical care, thanks to donations.”
The clinic has helped more than 1,000 patients in 2021, but expects to help 1,500 patients by the end of this year, she added.
The Holiday Home Tour previously benefited a non-profit organization known as Citizen Advocacy. It became a fundraiser for the HelpCare Clinic after the clinic opened in May 2015.