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Four Russellville homeowners welcome guests for Tour of Homes

For many people, the Christmas decorating debates centers on whether or not the tree can go up before Thanksgiving. For four Russellville homeowners, the task of decking their halls began much earlier – right around Halloween.

Beth and Barry Rhea, Sheree and Phillip Wade, Matt and Laura Kroeger and Chase Sparks dressed their homes in extravagant holiday style and welcomed Christmas visitors for the Books Lovers Study Club’s Holiday Tour of Homes Sunday. From towering trees to glittering twinkle lights, from nutcrackers and gingerbread to Santas galore, their friends and neighbors were invited in to see unparalleled festive finery.

Sparks, who participated in the Tour a couple of years ago, said he just loves to open his home up for the holidays. “It’s one of my favorite things to do,” Sparks said. “It’s a labor of love.” His home, located in downtown, is festooned with carolers, elves and nutcrackers – including a few nearly life-size ones guarding his front walk. “I just love it all.”

The tour’s other houses were first-time participants this year, each boasting its own style of holiday decor. Sheree Wade’s kitchen was decked out in all things gingerbread, while her entryway is home to her “peacock tree,” decorated with ornaments in pink, purple and teal tones. Because of participating in the tour this year, Wade said she went all out in her decorating this year far more than she has in recent years – hard work that was all worth it.

“I enjoyed every minute of it because I visited with things I hadn’t seen in a while,” Wade said. “That was fun for me – to revisit my things.”

Ramona Cody was among the many attendees at this year’s event, which she attended with her daughter Aubrey Sistrunk. She said they enjoyed seeing how each homeowner decorated differently.”Every house has been unique. They really put a lot of work into it.”

Beth Rhea said although she was a little nervous at first to participate in the tour, she enjoyed the experience. People meandering through her home were able to admire her abundance of snowmen and – all told, counting all sizes – 27 Christmas trees. The tree in her living room alone took 16 hours to decorate.

“I love it,” said Rhea, who has gone all out for Christmas ever since bringing her daughter home on Christmas Day as a baby. “I have three daughters and two grandsons, and they can’t wait to see what Nonnie’s doing for Christmas every year.”

Much of her holiday decor comprises treasures she has discovered thrifting and clearance shopping after the holidays. Traveling and visiting thrift stores has become a fun hobby for her and her husband.

Among all her trees, one that Rhea cherishes is her breast cancer tree, which is filled with pink ornaments given to her by friends during her treatment for breast cancer, a diagnosis she received in 2018. “Everybody who bought me an ornament for it has played a part in getting through it,” she said. “It’s odd though – I didn’t like pink before. Now I love it.”

A breast cancer tree occupies a place of honor at the Kroeger home as well. The tree in daughter Chelsea’s room pays tribute to Laura Kroeger’s mother, who died of breast cancer in January. The tree is full of both breast cancer ornaments and seashell ornaments, as Kroeger’s mother loved the beach.

The Kroegers’ four children who still live at home – two are grown and out of the home – each got to decorate their rooms in their own personal holiday style, and Kroeger worked her own magic in the sitting room, living room, kitchen and other family spaces.

“I grew up in a home where my mother started decorating for Christmas three months before and kept it up through January, and every room was decorated,” Kroeger said. “That’s the same tradition we have carried on.”

Like others on the tour, Kroeger said she decided to participate because, in addition to loving Christmas, she wanted to support the Book Lovers Study Club and its mission. “I love how the Books Lovers Club works in the community and does the breast cancer awareness stuff,” she said, “and I feel like the money they raise goes to really good causes.”