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Published March 06, 2010, 12:00 AM

Holiday herald: Stenzel tops Okabena elevator with seasonal decor

OKABENA — Sometime last weekend, the large heart perched atop the Okabena elevator disappeared, and a shamrock appeared in its place. This magical transformation wasn’t the work of stealthy leprechauns, however. For the last decade or so, Don Stenzel Sr. has been responsible for adorning the elevator for certain holidays.

By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe

OKABENA — Sometime last weekend, the large heart perched atop the Okabena elevator disappeared, and a shamrock appeared in its place.

This magical transformation wasn’t the work of stealthy leprechauns, however. For the last decade or so, Don Stenzel Sr. has been responsible for adorning the elevator for certain holidays.

“It’s more like I’m the one to blame,” said Don with a grin.

So why does Don, who lives in rural Heron Lake, travel about 10 miles to Okabena to take on this decorating task?

First of all, he has access to the tall structure because Okabena Elevator Co. is owned by one of his sons, Donald Stenzel Jr. But originally the holiday recognition took place at his own residence.

“About 25 years ago, I made a big star and put it on top of a steel bin out at my place, out in the boondocks,” Don explained. “I decided to put it up on a bracket, where people could see, and as long as I had the bracket up there, I had this heart I put up on the steel bin for Valentine’s Day, too.”

“About 10 years ago, I fell off a combine and banged my head, so my wife forbid me from doing any climbing on that steel bin. So I brought it over here where it’s twice as high!”

Don’s holiday symbol collection has expanded over the years. The shamrock, which goes up at the first of March in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, is a tribute to the heritage of his wife, Elaine.

“The wife is Irish,” he said. “And one day, she noticed that somebody had a shamrock in their front yard.”

Don originally told Elaine that they didn’t need any more holiday décor in their yard, but later surprised her with the shamrock shape that now adorns the elevator.

As soon as St. Patrick’s Day is over, a cross to denote the Easter season will replace the shamrock.

“I put a double strand of lights on the cross,” Don explained. “Before Easter, I have the purple strand lit, then at Easter, the gold lights go on.”

When the cross comes down after Easter, Don will have a vacation from his decorating duties. The next holiday on his elevator agenda is Christmas. While he displayed a star at his farm during the Christmas season, he fashioned a nativity scene that now goes up on the elevator. The simple outlines of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were designed using a much smaller nativity set.

“I find something” to use as a pattern, “and draft it out on paper in squares,” Don explained about the process he uses to create the decorations. “Then I get a big block of cardboard and block that out in squares and draw the design. Then I start bending the ¼-inch rod into the shape.”

In his early holiday decorations, Don used bulb lights, but the rope lights are much easier to work with and he can tailor the design to the rope light length. For the shamrock, for instance, he had an 18-foot length of lights and bent a 20-foot length of rod to form the shape.

“I had to figure out what size of shamrock I could get out of that,” he said.

To get his homemade creations to the top of the elevator, Don employs the elevator’s lift, a manually operated device that uses counterbalance and a rope to go up and down — much safer than climbing a ladder. A timer system turns on the lights at dusk and turns them back off in the morning.

“I think the nativity scene shows up the best,” of all his holiday decorations, Don noted. “It’s got the white lights against the dark sky.”

At 76, Don doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be able to keep up his decorating duties. But he’s still a very active guy — continuing to farm with his sons and finding any number of other projects to fill his time. He and Elaine have five children and 15 grandchildren.

“I’m a first-rate putzer,” he proclaimed. “Anybody that’s got something going on, they find out I’m still useful.

“I don’t know why I do this dumb stuff,” he added gruffly as he tramped through the slush from where he stores the seasonal symbols. “But if somebody enjoys it, I guess it’s worth it. … And my family is willing to put up with this foolishness.”

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