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Local Column

Schrader: Maker of Christmas displays ready to pass on his creations

David Miner stands amid his 1,000-square-foot Christmas extravaganza in his basement on Centennial Drive in DeKalb.
David Miner stands amid his 1,000-square-foot Christmas extravaganza in his basement on Centennial Drive in DeKalb.

David Miner has been designing, building and sharing his extensive displays of Christmases past for about 24 years but has decided it may be time to take a rest and find somewhere to relocate his extensive collection.

Miner began building his first Christmas display in the early 1980s. It was on a carousel that operated on an old record player turntabled, in his father’s workshop on Normal Road in DeKalb. After his father’s death, he continued to build displays and expanded to fill not only his entire basement but several rooms on the first and second floors of his home.

He began inviting friends and former students – he had taught physics for 24 years in Waterman, then organized tours which could last up to three hours. Some might call it an obsession, but I consider it a gift to those of us who still are kids at heart. I never miss the opportunity to see what new mechanical marvel he has built to grow the display year after year. He uses spare parts from other people’s discards as well as taking old toys and making them come alive again after refurbishing them.

Since he moved to the Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center two years ago, he has downsized his exhibition to fit into the 1,000 square feet of basement in his duplex, but it still spills over into three rooms on the main floor. He also has a collection of 175 music boxes, some of them incorporated into the Christmas-themed exhibits.

He said it takes about 500 hours each year to set up the extensive exhibit with all the wiring, lighting, animation, motorized and musical displays. It takes two full days to erect his 8-foot, handmade Christmas tree with six levels that all revolve around the center pole. There are more than 100 toys and decorations on that one tree, many coming from other people who know him, antique shops, garage sales or designed by Miner himself.

But age and health issues have made him start thinking about where his collection will go when he no longer is around. He envisions a museum or some public entity setting it up for the holiday season each year and inviting the public to view it. But there would have to be about 1,500 square feet or more to properly display it and an electrician to make it all work.

Here’s an idea for the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce: find a vacant building where it could be set up each holiday season, which would be a draw for businesses in the area when people came to see this Christmas toyland. It reminds me of Santa’s Village in Indiana, which I visited as a child, but all condensed into one extravaganza.

Miner hopes to find an interested entity by publicizing his desire to keep it operating for many years to come. So if you have an idea or think of some group or entity that might consider this, give him a call. He is in the phone book.

• Barry Schrader can be reached vial email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be found archived on his website www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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