Christmas preparations begin in July each year for the Specht household.
That’s when plans for their outdoor decorations start coming together.
For the past 25 years Sue and Arden Specht have dressed their home in festive holiday lighting.
Their decorations have even earned them a neighborhood nickname.
“Our neighbors joke that we are just about as bad as the Griswolds,” Arden said, referring to the film "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," where Chevy Chase's character Clark Griswold creates an over-the-top display.
The Specht's yard at 1614 Denver St. is filled with LED-lighted Christmas trees, reindeer and a Nativity scene. Three of their trees even play holiday music.
“We don’t have the music up too loud,” Sue said. “But we turn the volume up just a little on Christmas Day.”
The couple entered the chamber of commerce-sponsored Schuyler Home Lighting Contest, but they don't decorate each year to win prizes.
“The reason why we decorate so much every year is for the kids,” Sue said. “The kids across the street have grown up with looking out at our yard, and we always get so excited when a car drives by and stops to look at the yard.”
The couple share a lifelong love for the holiday season. Each has their own special memories of being with family members and driving around town to view Christmas displays.
“I remember when I was a kid one of the best things about Christmas was driving around looking at all the lights,” Arden said. “When I grew up I thought, if we can get to where we can do that one day, then we should do it.”
Assembly begins on Thanksgiving night. Two decades of practice has given the Spects plenty of expertise on how to organize and structure their lights.
“We keep the lights in a storage closet in the basement," Sue said. “Then we take them up into the garage and wipe down everything, even the cords. After we figure out where we want what, we get it all set up. I like for it all to look organized, just like making a little path out there for the horse and carriage.”
Of course, things don't always run smoothly.
“Last year we had a couple of rabbits and squirrels chew through the cables on one of our trees,” Sue said. “Arden had to fix it up just about six times. We weren’t sure if it would still work after all that.”
Despite the work it takes to light up their home for Christmas, Sue said the smiles on passing children’s faces makes it all worthwhile.
“We believe it’s the best way to give back to the community,” she said. “Sometimes I’m stopped in the grocery store by someone telling me how much they loved my house. They thank me for decorating. That is exactly why we still do this, to make people happy for Christmastime.”
Other entries in the holiday decorating contest are Daryl and Patty Holmberg at 1904 H St. and Fabiola Marino at 316 W. 11th St.
Families can sometimes find Christmas to be a stressful time of year.
An unhealthy mix of financial problems and daily strife can lead to misunderstandings and ultimately a ruined holiday season.
Saturday's Christmas pageant at St. Benedict Center showed audience members how to avoid these problems.
An overwhelmed John read the newspaper in his living room and released a sigh of discontent.
“How do I protect my family in this time of need?” John, portrayed by Tonya Labenz, asked himself.
John has found himself in some financial distress and the tension increases as his wife, Mary, played by Megan Koliha, looks to him for comfort.
“I try to give my family everything I can,” Mary said. “But it’s just not enough. How did Mary carry all that stress knowing that her giving birth to the Savior meant the world was on her shoulders?”
Their three children have their own burdens to carry. Daughter Lily, played by Maria Semerad, wishes she had more stylish clothes; son Jack, portrayed by Dominic Semerad, wants to play the trumpet; and the youngest child Sophie, played by Reagan Koliha, yearns for a more close-knit family.
The family has come to expect visits from their angry neighbor George, played by Mitchell Heavican. George is the bah humbug of the family’s routine. Every chance he gets, George intrudes and does his best to make daily life a little more intolerable.
Darkness covers each member of the family in a black shroud and it seems that all hope is lost. Then an angel, played by Viviana Madej, arrives to shed light on the holiday spirit.
After young Sophie begs the angel to save her family and Christmas, the angel reminds her of an important fact.
“It is not my job or anyone else’s to save Christmas,” the angel said. “That job is left for Jesus to save, transform and love us all — not only for Christmas, but all year.”
It is then when the familiar Nativity scene appears — Mary and Joseph gather to behold baby Jesus along with shepherds and an angel. Each member of the scene reminds the family in need that there is hope after all. The answer is to look to Jesus for help and comfort.
The simple message leaves a profound mark on the family and all are able to remember what matters most during Christmas. That is togetherness and remembering Jesus comes first.
Mary Guynan has either written or directed the annual Christmas pageant each year for the past two decades.
“We try to mix it up a little each year,” Guynan said. "We’ve done pageants through the perspective of the shepherds, one year we looked through the donkey’s eyes and this year I wanted to do something different yet again.”
Guynan said she wanted to focus on changing one thing about Christmas during this year's pageant.
“I saw all this commercialism that seems to go along with Christmas,” she said. “This year I wanted to try to deflect from that.”
The goal, she said, was to remind audience members to turn to Jesus for happiness.
“Because if you miss that part of Christmas, you miss the whole point,” Guynan said.
Winter Sports Preview
Look for our special section featuring all the
local teams inside today's Schuyler Sun.
A three-story aerial platform began creeping around the outside of the historic Colfax County Courthouse last week as workers delicately remove the decorative terra cotta embellishments for restoration during the next couple of weeks.
A crew from Fort Scott, Kansas-based Mid-Continental Restoration Inc. began the job Nov. 27 and expected to take one to two weeks to remove the clay-based embellishments from the nearly century-old courthouse and complete some patchwork.
Colfax County commissioners met with restoration workers Nov. 28 to ask them if they could work in collaboration with the district and county courts to minimize construction noises while judicial proceedings are scheduled.
Meanwhile, the three-member board was disappointed to receive no bids for concrete improvements that will make the courthouse compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
The board opted to schedule another bid letting for Jan. 9 while taking time between now and then to notify area contractors about the job.
“I don’t think a lot of them knew about the bid letting,” Chairman Gil Wigington said last week.
In September, the board unanimously agreed to accept a $962,564 bid from Bierman Contracting Inc. for the courthouse renovation project, but rejected the Columbus company’s $73,000 alternate bid to make the exterior landings and sidewalk ADA-compliant.
The renovation work, needed because moisture has penetrated the courthouse's exterior in spots, separating the bricks from the walls and cracking and wearing away the glaze on the terra cotta, will extend well into 2018.
A 26-year-old Schuyler man accused of stabbing his neighbor multiple times with a screwdriver is competent to stand trial on felony charges.
That was the ruling Nov. 29 in Colfax County District Court after the defense made an attempt to have Yoandri Fleitas-Llorente labeled legally insane. Now the defense is asking mental health professionals to determine whether the defendant was temporarily insane when the crime was committed.
Fleitas-Llorente was charged with attempted second-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony after he was arrested May 1 following the screwdriver attack at an apartment building at 923 B St. in Schuyler.
According to court documents, 58-year-old Miguel Nino Hernandez suffered puncture wounds to the head, chest, shoulder, back and hands during the incident, which occurred around 12:45 p.m.
After driving himself to the police station, Nino Hernandez was transported by ambulance to CHI Health Schuyler then flown by medical helicopter to a trauma center in Omaha.
Nino Hernandez, who was “bleeding profusely” from the left side of his head, told officers he was attacked by another man living in the same apartment building, court documents state.
Officers found drops of blood leading from Nino Hernandez’s apartment and a screwdriver with a large amount of blood on it near the building’s entrance, according to the arrest affidavit.
A blood-covered Fleitas-Llorente, described to law enforcement by witnesses who saw him walking away from the apartment building, was located a few blocks away wearing boots that appeared to match footprints found at the scene, the affidavit states.
Fleitas-Llorente is being held in the Lincoln Regional Center, where physicians will continue to evaluate him before another ruling is made on the insanity defense.
His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10 in Colfax County District Court.
If he’s convicted of both charges, Fleitas-Llorente could spend decades in prison.