By Linda Kruger
Brazos Valley Winter Wonderland, a miniature lighted holiday village, has been displayed in the Bryan, Texas area nearly every year for the last 13 years. In 2011 the location was the Post Oak Mall, located in College Station, Texas, managed by Paul Loy.
The display includes The Original Snow Village by Department 56 (the largest village in the collection) and Yuletide pieces (a Department 56 knock-off made for less than three years by another company), as well as a depiction of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth. Owned by club president Tom Wilkinson, who had collected the pieces for more than 25 years, the display includes more than 300 lighted buildings, 400 – 500 people, and 1,000 miniature trees.
It is a joint project of Brazos Valley 56ers and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Four charities operated the village for a week each as a fundraiser, and are responsible for how the donations are used: Health for All; STARS volunteers of the Arts Council of Brazos Valley; KEOS community radio; and the Youth Cabinet of the United Way. A donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children was suggested, but many visitors simply made a donation of their choice.
The Bryan Independent School District’s Rudder High School assisted by building the tables for the display. Materials were donated by Brazos Valley Affordable Housing Corp.
The display was open for the entire month of December. It took eight pickup truck loads to move the village from storage and 30-45 days to set up. In addition to club members, an additional 10 people volunteered throughout the month for setup. They worked mainly week nights and Saturday and Sundays in November, as some members still had day jobs!
A great mix of people view the display. Most come in and stay for an hour, and if not they come back with friends. Some people have commented, it isn’t really Christmas until they come to the Village display.
One member of the collectors club got started collecting after he worked the display one year when the Symphony was the Charity. He now collects New England Village and helps set it up.
Brazos Valley 56ers NCC Club is a small group: five couples and three single members. Most of the members have been collectors for 20 years or more.
The club meets two or three times a year, and decides by August if it is going to “do the display.” They then look for donated space in Downtown Bryan, or (in 2011 for the first time) at the Post Oak Mall.
As this is a club project, members have a lot of fun getting all of the houses and accessories unboxed. One member is the official tree “fluff-er,” the son and daughters of another member help with lights, setting up and/or taking it down.
During the years that the club sets up the village, some of the members choose to not set up a display at home. The club members usually have a party one night while the display is up and invite friends and neighbors to see and share in their passion for “The Village.” The club has dubbed Tom Wilkinson The Mayor of Snow Village. And he exclaims: “I am still trying to figure out how to collect taxes!!”
In all of the years the Brazos Valley 56ers have built the display, never has any piece or accessory disappeared or been broken.