It isn’t every day that a 1946 Chevy pickup is parked at the Oregon Veterans’ Home — and in a courtyard closed to vehicles.
The truck has evoked fond memories for residents who remember driving that model in their youth. It was lent to the holiday scene by Clifford “Kip” Carr of Gill’s Point S Tire & Auto in The Dalles.
“That has been the biggest hit and the one most commented upon,” said Jennifer Ashley, who strung lights on the truck and filled it with lighted presents and a tree.
Carr said giving veterans that type of enjoyment was exactly what he hoped the contribution would do.
“These vets bought the freedom I stand on, so if I have anything to do with putting a feather in their cap, I’m glad to do it,” he said.
People wanting to see the display put together by Ashley and Tracie Schubert can do so through New Year’s Day. Their handiwork includes stringing more than 4,000 feet of lights on the exterior of the building and filling the common areas with elegant displays.
White lights, graceful reindeer and a big red bow greet visitors at the front entrance. Inside, the metal stars on the nearly 13-foot tree in the lobby are reflective of the silver and bronze stars that military personnel earn for valor on the battlefield and other meritorious actions.
There are 30 wreaths in windows down the hallway that are affixed with a red bow and holly berries. Lighted gift boxes, like those in the truck, sit nearby.
Not only did Ashley bring Christmas magic to the residents, she came away with a deeper love for the men and women who live there.
“Making some great friends was the greatest blessing of all,” she said. “I even ended up sitting around singing old show tunes with them just for the fun of it.”
She and Schubert were hired by Veterans Care Centers of Oregon, a nonprofit that contracts with the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs to operate the local home.
Ashley owns Two Little Love Birds wedding planning service and was known by Debbie Cantrell, quality systems director at OVH, who asked if she was interested in the challenge.
“We hired someone who had the experience to do this,” said Mike Allegre, quality of life coordinator for VCCO. “This was something we wanted to do to make it look festive and bright.”
He said it was the first time that an outside entity has been brought on board for the task of decorating and it was an amazing success.
“It’s perked up the residents and gotten the staff smiling, so it was well worth it,” he said.
With a family lineage of military service, Ashley said she has a “huge heart for veterans” so the opportunity to give back to them brought her joy.
“It was a little out of my wheelhouse,” she said of immediately enlisting the help of Schubert who “she sees things I don’t see.”
The two women walked through the halls and around the exterior of the building, and were dazed by the scope of the task ahead, but also excited.
“We were kind of gasping for air and saying, ‘Where would we even start,” said Ashley.
To prepare an accurate bid for the job, Ashley and Schubert came up with a basic design plan and then went price-comparison shopping in Portland.
They wanted to make sure that everything they would buy, if hired, was re-usable for future years. If all went well, they envisioned the displays growing each holiday season.
Once they knew they had the job, Schubert and Ashley began planning in earnest and beautifying wreaths and swags in Ashley’s shop.
“It seemed like we had so much stuff when it was in the shop, but when we got it there, it didn’t seem like enough,” she said.
They began hanging the decorations on Nov. 27 and finished about a week later. It turned out their worries were unfounded, every common space ended up with one of about a dozen small trees or another type of focal point.
They put in more than 200 hours on the job.
All of the decorations had to be fire retardant so ribbons had to be treated with a non-flammable substance, which required a meeting with the fire marshal.
“It was really just an interesting project. I feel very connected to this place now,” Ashley said.