Home decorated in grand scale

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Santa 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.

BATH TWP., Ohio —There’s nothing understated about Earlene McGonegal and John Betonte’s approach to Christmas.

The 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.

Getting 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.

This 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 space.

McGonegal 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.

Enthusiastic 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 preview gala.

"I said, ‘John, we don’t have any more room,’?" McGonegal said with a smile. "But he always figures it out."

She 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.

Some 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 Luke.

One 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 Sal.

They’re 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.

Some 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 sequins.

The 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.

But 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.

That’s a gift they can enjoy year-round.