sits in a old model car under a tree at Earlene
McGonegal and John Betonte's home on Nov. 25, 2014
in Bath, Ohio. Their house will be part of this
year's Sugar Plum Tour.
TWP., Ohio —There’s nothing understated about
Earlene McGonegal and John Betonte’s approach to
couple celebrates on a big scale, including the
life-size Santas, wooden soldiers and other holiday
characters that populate their home this time of year.
the house into Christmas-season shape every year is no
small undertaking. The process takes about 70 hours, six
for the living room tree alone, Betonte said.
year, the decorating started Nov. 7. Friend Larie Shaw
helped as usual, and organizers of a local holiday home
tour sent two helpers to provide extra muscle for
carrying the decorations from their basement storage
and Betonte have adorned the contemporary, cedar- and
stone-clad home with abandon each of the nine
Christmases they’ve lived there. Their collection
keeps growing, thanks in large part to Akron Children’s
Hospital’s Holiday Tree Festival.
supporters of the fundraising festival, the two have
bought decorated trees, wreaths and other decorations
there. And two weeks ago, they were back for this year’s
said, ‘John, we don’t have any more room,’?"
McGonegal said with a smile. "But he always figures
and Betonte even have an entire room vignette purchased
there, a frosty white-and-red scene in their upstairs
hallway called Mrs. Claus’ Boudoir. It includes a
white settee snuggled up to an electric fireplace, a
white tree hung with red ornaments and wrapped with
snowy cotton garland, and a dress form bearing an
elegant white outfit ready for Christmas celebrating.
The room even came with wrapped gifts under the tree,
which they’ve never opened.
of the items on display came from their travels,
including an ebony Nativity that McGonegal brought back
from Ghana and a quartet of wood trees she carted home
from Bali. Some came from family, such as the Ukrainian
tree topper that was passed down to Betonte’s late
wife and the 1876 Bible from McGonegal’s ancestors,
displayed open to the Christmas story in the Gospel of
was a windfall from a garage sale, a life-size figure
from the company Katherine’s Collection that a friend
of Betonte’s spotted and picked up for him at a
bargain price. He named the female doll Miss Kitty
because of her resemblance to the saloon keeper in the
TV classic Gunsmoke and sat her on one side of the
living room’s bow window. On the other side is another
Katherine’s Collection doll named Eula, gaudily
dressed in a leopard coat and shoes and wearing a grin
that reminds Betonte of the funhouse character Laffing
just two of the life-size figures positioned all around
McGonegal and Betonte’s house. A wooden soldier guards
the top of the stairs, while the character Betonte calls
the chancellor of Christmas University — a Santa
dressed in elaborate Renaissance garb — takes up
position between the kitchen and dining room. In the
informal space McGonegal and Betonte call the lodge room
is a Katherine’s Collection Santa in royal robe, as
well as a female elf with a sprightly face that was
modeled after the artist’s aunt.
smaller figures make an appearance, too. A forest fairy
from artist Mark Roberts perches atop a pier glass that
came from McGonegal’s family. A Santa in a white
sheepskin coat, designed by artist Tina Mitchell, totes
his pack in the master bedroom. In the living room, a
carousel horse purchased at the tree festival awaits a
rider, bedecked in jewels, black feathers and gold
holiday decorations share space with family heirlooms,
including furniture from the tourist home McGonegal’s
family ran and her grandparents’ farm in Jefferson
County, Ohio. Her son’s christening dress hangs on a
guest room wall, and a lamp that was a wedding gift to
her parents lights the room.
all those objects merely enhance what McGonegal and
Betonte consider the house’s best feature, its views
of their 2 1/2 wooded acres. The couple purposely left
most of the windows unadorned, because "God gave us
such wonderful scenery," McGonegal said.
a gift they can enjoy year-round.