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Christmas display kept growing over the years

December 23, 2018

PONCA — Gene Watchorn and Julie McDowell enjoy spreading the magic of Christmas.

“It’s the magic for these kids when they see it. I think that’s the fascination — where they see things moving and singing to them,” McDowell said. “One boy who was here the other day, I think he was a kindergartner, said, ‘You were in my TV.’ Their fascination and their magic is what keeps us going.”

The Ponca pair have over-the-top Christmas decorations — both inside and out — and were recently named the winners of ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”

For anyone who has toured their rural Ponca home, they would say the honor is well-deserved.

The two have been collecting Christmas decorations for several years, some of which are 30 to 40 years old. It takes Watchorn — who takes on most of the work himself — from Labor Day weekend to Thanksgiving to get everything on display.

To put numbers to it, McDowell said they have 19 full-sized decorated Christmas trees in the house, all of which are 6-foot tall and up. They have about 250 push button animations; 90 inflatables; about 175 blow molds; more than 2 miles of extension cords; about 6,000 figurines; about 200 nutcrackers, some of which are 5 feet tall; and 200 to 300 angels.

On top of that, they have bells, snow globes and their own personal Christmas collections. Plus, it takes Watchorn about 50 hours to set up the Christmas village, McDowell said.

ABOUT 15 years ago, they decided to open up their house for tours. For Watchorn, it was about giving families something to do.

“I wanted to make it something affordable for families to do. This time of year is pretty expensive. That’s why you’re not charged to go through the house,” he said. “I wanted to make a family deal so they can enjoy it and not have to spend an arm and a leg to do something.”

So they opened it up to schools, McDowell said.

“The kids enjoyed it so much, and then, there was a couple of elderly gentleman from Ponca, they have since passed, but they would be out in the yard dancing at night with the animations out there — the blow ups and the music — and so we thought, the adults need to see this, too,” McDowell said. “So that’s when we started going over the top and all the lights, and just more for people to enjoy.”

People certainly have enjoyed it, she said.

“(Visitors) say, ‘I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit, but I am now,’ ” McDowell said. “So if you aren’t, then you come out here, you’re going to have to be, or there’s something wrong.”

Even so, McDowell never expected to gain national exposure. When they were told last December they had won the “Great Christmas Light Fight,” they were in disbelief.

“Gene and I, we never considered that our display was good enough to be on a show like that. We’ve watched the show for many years. And we kind of thought those people were crazy,” McDowell said with a laugh. “We just never anticipated that ours could compete with anything like that. So we were ecstatic when we won obviously, and very proud. I’m very proud of Gene for all of the efforts he’s done for years.

“It’s such an honor, first of all, to find us in the middle of a cornfield and for just him and I, and now him doing it (by himself) where there’s normally teams of people doing it, it was wonderful,” she added.

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Want to learn more?

Open house tours are available from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 30. Special tours can be made upon request by calling Watchorn or McDowell at 402-755-2655.

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