Christmas is much more than just in the air when it comes to Markle’s ‘Mr. Christmas’

Rick Bower, of Markle, holds up an animated Santa sleigh with reindeer that is one of the favorite pieces of his vast collection of Christmas decorations. He says the toy has never been listed in any of the many catalogues he has that list the values of antique and vintage decorations.
Rick Bower, of Markle, holds up an animated Santa sleigh with reindeer that is one of the favorite pieces of his vast collection of Christmas decorations. He says the toy has never been listed in any of the many catalogues he has that list the values of antique and vintage decorations. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Even before you get to the front door of Rick and Jenny Bower’s home on North Miller Street in Markle, you can hear Christmas in the air, with holiday music wafting through the air amid brightly-lit vintage Christmas display figures.

But once you get in the door, it’s everywhere.

There’s the “family” Christmas tree, decked with 375 ornaments, some homemade, and a fireplace and mantle with colorful ornaments, electric candelabra, soldier nutcrackers and garland, a large, hand-carved wooden Nativity set on the window seat that their son brought back from Kenya and scores of Santa Claus figurines, delicate glass teapot-shaped tree ornaments in one of the (at least) three curio cabinets, with more in the other two and even a cheery bird ornament sitting inside a full-sized birdcage. And all that’s just in the living room.

The rest of the downstairs “visiting” area – a den, hallway, dining room and upstairs bedrooms – show off the Bowers’ collection of Santas, advent carousels and more ornaments, adorning another full-sized tree, one medium tree and two “feather” trees (made with goose feathers).

The buffet alone holds scores of graceful, hand-blown glass tree toppers of every color imaginable.

The trees twinkle with everything from old-fashioned bubble lights from the ’40s and ’50s to wax candles, which they light on Christmas Eve.

For those who remember, they even have an aluminum tree from the ’60s, complete with a working color wheel spotlight.
“He’s Mr. Christmas,” Jenny says, nodding toward her husband. Her own small collection (in comparison) of porcelain rabbits hide out in one of the dining room china cabinets, peering from behind Rick’s Christmas decorations.

This year the couple began setting up their Yuletide displays at the end of October, bringing up 30 tote boxes full of the collection from the basement. Jenny says they plan to take it down by the end of January – but Rick says it’ll be more like the end of March before everything is put away.

Bower, who is retired and a Markle town councilman, admits he has a thing for Christmas, and for Christmas decorations – most of which are vintage, a few as much as 100 years old. He’s been collecting them for around 11 years, the same length of time they have lived in the craftsman-style home built in 1900.

“This house lends itself more to the older decorations,” Rick says. “When I first started it was quantity. Now it’s quality – it’s the age of the ornament, and if it has value.”

“The older they are the uglier they are,” chips in Jenny.

Rick says he is a year-long Christmas fanatic, listening to holiday music throughout the year and keeping an eye out for unique ornaments, figurines and other vintage decorations to add to his collection.

“When I was little we had the little plastic Santa and reindeer,” he explains. “We were one of those families that grew up dirt-poor in rural Ohio, and it was like, the big decoration. I remember that. And you know how you want to recreate that, your childhood memories? So I kept looking for one of those.”

Once he started looking, Bower started finding more things that tickled his Christmas memory fantasy. He now has multiple Santa sleigh-and-reindeer figures of every description, including one he has yet to find in the ornament value books that tell him how much each item is worth.

“When you buy something for $6 and it’s in the book for $150, it motivates you to go out and look for more,” he says.

They find their items in antique shops, thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets. Rick says he will often find a treasure that nobody else wants.

“I’ve got relatives in Georgia and we travel from here to Georgia,” he says. “We’ve hit every antique shop between here and Georgia.”

“Sometimes we’ll just be out and about, and find something that we like,” Jenny adds.

The Bowers also collect Christmas cards and old photographs of families enjoying the holiday, from the 1920s on. Once the photos are enlarged, the ornaments on the Christmas tree begin to stand out, providing a glimpse of how they celebrated the holidays back then.

“We study them and see what’s in them and how the trees are decorated, and things like that,” Jenny says.

“You can also see what toys they had back then, so you can get a good idea of what year the picture is, by the toy,” Rick adds.

Some of the values of their plastic Santas – the scarier versions of which are called “Crampus,” Rick says – have skyrocketed, a few fetching hundreds of dollars. The Bowers say they have no idea how much money their collection is worth, because they have been building it up for so many years. But they add it’s a limited resale market, appealing to a small group of collectors compared to other genres of objets d’art.

However, Rick says he hopes to get to a Christmas decoration club convention this year in Cincinnati and meet fellow enthusiasts.

At least in Markle, the couple’s indoor fantasyland is renown, with the antique outside decorations attracting attention to what is within.

“At Halloween, some of the trick-or-treaters’ parents will ask if they can come back,” Rick says. “We’ve had people just knock at the door and say, ‘Hey, can we look at that?’”

As much as they love their collection, the Bowers are talking about downsizing it. They are planning to move to a smaller home in Fort Wayne, with only 1,500 square feet to decorate. Rick says they may have to go to putting up only one big tree for Christmas, but Jenny says there will still be room for the tabletop trees and their special ornaments. They will always have every inch decorated when the big holiday rolls around.

Why? Because it makes them happy.

“I just enjoy Christmas. It’s fun,” Rick says. “Yes, we tend to overdo it. I guess maybe I’m compensating for something.”
“Mostly, we decorate for Christmas because we enjoy the decorations during the season,” Jenny adds. “It’s just for enjoyment.”