It’s tradition for Christmas to be on Dec. 25.
It’s tradition for Clarinda’s Lighted Christmas Parade to be the day after Thanksgiving (this year was an exception).
There is also a Clarinda tradition that has reached 50 years of having Santa Claus and his reindeer perched atop the roof of 115 W. Garfield St.
“Many years ago I saw an ad in the Des Moines Register. It was a ‘you build’ company with Christmas decorations,” said Larry Scherf who purchased and first installed them in 1968.
If it was not a newspaper advertisement that motivated Scherf to purchase the display, it may have been his daughter to add decorations to the house.
Scherf, a retired Clarinda teacher and coach, moved to town in 1963. When his daughter was about 3, he came home from a basketball practice to take her to Walker-Merrick Funeral Home to watch a Santa Claus decoration that was mechanical to make it appear Santa was waving.
“That led me to the ad. We’ve got to do this,” he said.
He contacted the company.
“They sent me a brochure that had Santa Claus, reindeer and the like,” he said.
The first year, he put up the reindeer and lights on the evergreen trees that were taller than the porch.
“One morning, the reindeer were gone and the light bulbs were missing,” he said.
Scherf didn’t let the trouble discourage him as he ordered the full complement of decorations for Christmas 1970.
“A few years later, we added some elves. There are five. They are paper decals glued on to plywood, then cut out with a jigsaw,” he explained.
To enhance the decorations even more, he added a red light bulb to a reindeer to make it like Rudolph – the classic Christmas character.
“It gives it a little more attention,” he said.
But there is more to it than what is seen on the front.
“You have to secure it,” Scherf said about the winds that can blow in December. “There are cement blocks on the back to anchor it. Then there is wire attached to house to the display,” he said.
Even then, Mother Nature has had her way and has pushed over the display or had pieces broken over the years.
“I did it myself for several years,” Scherf said about his efforts in late November. “I was a bit younger then.”
Over time, Scherf said his son-in-law, Craig Hill, and his two children eventually provided the labor to install Santa and his staff.
“The last few years I wasn’t on the roof. They could take it up and put it down,” he said. Scherf said the entire display can be erected in about 40 minutes. A scale model of the decorations was entered in the 2018 Lighted Christmas Parade.
If it’s not the wind that weathers the decorations, it’s the exposure to sun and precipitation. Scherf said the characters have been refurbished over the years. The company he purchased the display from is still in operation and sells new decals.
“It does fade. Santa’s sleigh is painted,” he said. “The years I thought they needed refurbished, I would start right after Christmas. They have been kept in the garage and covered with a cloth.”
The company has more inflatable decorations now.
“Wood is not the preferred thing to have,” he said.
Over the years, he said there would be people who would stop by with their children and look for a little while. Some would knock on the door and thank Scherf for adding to the Christmas spirit in town.
“One night the doorbell rang. It was a family with young kids with an envelope. In the envelope was $2.60 in change and we were told to use the money to pay for the electricity. I treasure that. That was one of the neatest things to happen,” he said.
Scherf was ready to downsize and sold the house early this year. The transaction included the Christmas decorations. New owners are Todd and Jennifer Reed who purchased the house and put the decorations up this year.
“My wife and I grew up with that,” Todd said about looking the display during their younger years in town. “You realize there are families that have three generations that have seen that.”
When Scherf was selling the house, the Reeds were interested and hoped the decorations would be included.
“Is it a deal breaker,” Todd asked. “We understood if it was to be kept within the family.”
No one in Scherf’s family either had the interest or right roof, which Larry said made him decide to include it with the sale of the house. Larry told the Reeds of the company where to buy new decals, when needed. The Reeds installed it this year as Todd said he upgraded the light bulbs and electric wires.
“We have had Christmas decorations before, but not on this scale,” Todd said.
“I miss it,” Scherf said. “But it’s in good hands.”