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Christmas collection tells family's story

When Stephen Grammer was 15 years old, he began a holiday tradition that has continued well into adulthood.

The Schuyler Central High School principal collects Santa Claus figurines.

“I started collecting them everywhere I would travel,” Grammer said.

His home now features 175 Santas, made from a variety of materials, from across the United States.

“I have a few from Florida, Pennsylvania and Kansas,” he said. “One year my wife Laurie and I visited Estes Park. We looked for Santas there, but couldn’t find one to bring home. I found the perfect one in Seward, so you could say we traveled hundreds of miles to buy a Santa from Seward.”

The Kris Kringle theme fits Grammer for a couple of reasons.

“For one, I like how they look,” he said. “But I also think I look a little like Santa now, so I’ll keep collecting them.”

A couple of the Santas came from a metalworking plant in Pennsylvania.

“When the company shut down, the workers were able to learn a different trade with the metal that was left,” Grammer said. “So they made a lot of decorations, including a few Santas. Now I have two of those Santas made by the company workers."

Grammer also got his wife Laurie hooked on the hobby. She has collected miniature Department 56 buildings for 36 years.

“Stephen bought me my first house when we first started dating,” Laurie said. “That’s how that all started. He keeps buying me the houses and I arrange them in the way that I like them to be.”

It usually takes Laurie about four weeks to set up the display.

Her set of North Pole villages purchased in Estes Park is arranged along a mantle, with some of the pieces holding a special meaning.

“I have a peanut brittle factory up there that reminds me of my grandmother,” she said. “She would always make peanut brittle — it was one of her favorite things. I also have several gardening houses and bakeries in my collection. I enjoy both crafts, so I wanted to incorporate that into the decorations."

A display case in the living room holds her Charles Dickens-inspired village.

“I have one case that tells the whole 'Christmas Carol' story,” Laurie said. “There is Scrooge doing what he does best, and the little boy with the Christmas ham.”

Another display case features even more Department 56 items.

The Grammers come from a long line of collectors. Stephen’s grandmother decorated her home with angels and Laurie’s parents owned a costume shop, which led to a love of collecting clown-related items.

“So many of these houses hold a special tie to me and our family,” Laurie said. “Everything we collect has a certain connection to our kids, parents and grandparents. Every Christmas item we have collected, and continue to collect, represents something of our own story. Everything has a reason.”

Food and Toy Drive spreads holiday cheer

The lawn in front of the Colfax County Attorney’s Office was full of boxes packed with food Saturday as a team of volunteers worked to serve families in need.

This has been the norm each December for the Schuyler Food and Toy Drive, which start eight years ago after former Colfax County diversion officer Saul Soltero visited the home of a youth under his watch.

"One boy said he didn’t have a lot of food at his house, so my wife and I bought him a few things and took it to his house," Soltero said. "It was no big deal, just a few items. When we got to his home, we saw that his family had almost no food.”

Soltero partnered with the Colfax County Attorney's Office to begin collecting and donating food and other household items to area families who need assistance.

“One family grew to three,” Soltero said. “Then three became six, then nine, and then it grew way more than we could ever imagine.”

This year the effort brought food, clothing and Christmas gifts to nearly 60 families, including more than 150 children.

Volunteers wrapped the presents at the Colfax County Courthouse before they were delivered along with the other items.

“As soon as I walked into the courthouse I noticed there was a hum,” volunteer Carol Johnson said. “It just felt like Santa’s workshop. It was just phenomenal.”

Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl said donations were not hard to come by this year.

They came from as far away as Louisiana and Arizona and locally from collections held at Schuyler Community Schools and Leigh Community Schools. Schuyler Central High School's Project S group raised $1,700 for the drive and other donations came from individuals, businesses and service groups across the community.

The Fallen Outdoors, a group that organizes hunting and fishing trips for active military members and veterans, brought a truckload of food for the effort.

Miriam Campuzano, 22, and Natalie Campuzano, 14, helped by delivering packages and translating for families.

“I wanted to do this because it’s my childhood community,” Miriam said. “I just love to help with this because not only am I able to give something back, but I can also see just how grateful people are to help out. It’s like we’re bringing someone’s Christmas.”

Miriam wanted her sister Natalie to help spread holiday cheer and hope, as well.

“I wanted Natalie to see people’s reactions to getting their deliveries,” she said. “It was really important for me to be able to share this passion I have with her."

A special donation was also made this year as a vehicle was presented to one family.

"When the lady saw the car she fell to her knees and bawled. That is precisely why we do this," Soltero said.

Grant request supports juvenile services programs

Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl gave county commissioners their first peek at the application she is preparing to seek a community-based juvenile services grant for 2018-19.

Kracl is requesting $38,709 in state funding, with most of that amount — about $34,000 — going toward the wages of a school truancy/juvenile diversion program officer, two positions held by the same person.

The county’s matching funds would be $4,301, bringing the total to $43,010, Kracl told the three-member board before its 3-0 vote to give preliminary approval to the application.

Once the grant request is approved, a decision is expected from the Nebraska Crime Commission around March, the county board will give its final OK on the matching amount.

“Colfax County is among the top three counties (in the state) with the fewest number of kids who come back into the juvenile justice system after going through diversion,” Kracl said.

The juvenile services and diversion programs have a goal of keeping kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom.

Colfax County's juvenile diversion program, started in 2008, serves about 40 to 50 youths annually. The number of juveniles who serve time in detention has been on a steady decline for more than five years.

The cost of youth detention, Kracl told the board, is $145 a day at the Northeast Nebraska Juvenile Detention Center in Madison.

In addition to the community-based grant request, Kracl also included an enhancement-based grant request to the commission seeking more than $13,000 in fringe benefit packages for the truancy/diversion officer.

The county's match would be $1,455.