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Meet the elves behind Christmas in LeClaire

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They make it look so easy. 

For the 30-some years that Christmas in LeClaire has attracted visitors for shopping and entertainment, Diane Glispie and Joyce Kuehl have been the driving forces behind the event. Now a three-day celebration, this year's event kicks off Friday, Dec. 7, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 9. 

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Organizer Diane Glispie, center, and committee member Vicki Jebsen set out silent auction baskets and corresponding descriptions at the civic center in LeClaire on Wednesday, getting ready for Christmas in LeClaire, which starts Friday. Glispie and Jebsen have been the driving force behind Christmas in LeClaire for more than 30 years.

The pair are the heart of Christmas in LeClaire, said Vicki Jebsen, who describes herself as "a tag-along" and part-time committee member as she works half the year running a resort in Wisconsin. "They work their tails off, they do. They do all the things behind the scenes you never see. Without these two, it wouldn't happen without a doubt." 

She joked to them "Don't put your bill in for your time. We can't afford you." 

For months ahead of the annual celebration, Glispie and Kuehl are enlisting businesses, churches, civic groups, crafters and volunteers to make Christmas in LeClaire a weekend full of activities, crafts, treats and other holiday fun. They coordinate a schedule of activities, solicit donations for a silent auction and to give away at a Santa's Gift Shop for children, both held in the LeClaire Civic Center. There are promotions to handle as well as details with the city and police department, merchants and others.

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Organizer Joyce Kuehl talks about the process of preparing for Christmas in LeClaire.

In their free time, the two are busy at home making enough handmade crafts and baked goods to fill a few banquet tables at the civic center.

"After all these years we know what has to be done, when it has to be done and when we'd like it to be done," said Glispie, 75, who admits the work is tougher today than years ago.  

Kuehl, now 81, takes their efforts in stride but said "each year it gets bigger and bigger and more and more."

She said each year they like to add something new. This year includes a children's Reindeer Dash, free rides in a Hummer Limo and ukulele players at the store Razzleberries.  

The pair is happy for the support they receive from LeClaire merchants and others across the Quad-Cities. Soliciting donations is an all-year job that this year raised enough to create 35 auction baskets — all assembled by Kuehl. "It takes my one of my spare rooms to keep them," she said.  

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A basket for the silent auction donated by the River Bandits is seen at the civic center in LeClaire on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.

This year, their committee also includes Kim DeWall, who organizes the Strolling Santas, finding volunteers and getting the costumes; Connie Allen, who coordinates a 16-page printed brochure that is a visitor guide for the weekend; as well as Anna Broders (Kuehl's daughter), who with her friend Lori McFate, are responsible for the Ugly Christmas Sweater 5K Run now in its third year and the new Reindeer Dash. 

Glispie said that through the years they have had as many as six or eight on their committee "but then life happens and they drift away." But every year, she and Kuehl stay committed to the project.

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Organizer Diane Glispie, left, places silent auction forms in front of donated items while committee member Vicki Jebsen walks to grab another basket to be set out for the auction at the civic center in LeClaire on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.

Both women half-joked when one of them quits, they both will quit. 

Christmas in LeClaire traces its roots to sometime in the mid-1980s as home craft shows, though none of the organizers can remember exactly what year. 

Jebsen recalled how about six or eight crafters in LeClaire and neighboring Port Byron and Pleasant Valley got together to sell their crafts - each hosting an open house at each of their homes but all on the same winter day. "You'd move your stuff out and put up your own crafts, maybe serve cider and cookies," she said. 

Jebsen, one of those first crafters, remembers how she would rent out a building that was vacant in downtown that year and invite other crafters to bring their creations.

After a couple of years, the group met with then Mayor Bob Scannell and his wife Rita, who owned The Old Bake Shop in LeClaire, to talk about expanding their event. "It started because we needed a place for people to go to lunch," Kuehl said, adding there were not as many options downtown as today. 

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A Santa Claus decoration is seen ready to be put out on display at the civic center in LeClaire on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.

From those home craft sales, Christmas in LeClaire has grown into a community-wide effort involving the merchants, other businesses, civic organizations and the churches including PPALs - a name the churches of Princeton, Port Byron, Argo and LeClaire unite under. 

"The whole idea was to get the community pulled together for an old-fashioned Christmas," Kuehl said.

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Maintenance supervisor Tom Morrell hangs Christmas lights at the civic center in LeClaire on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.

As an extension of Christmas in LeClaire, the committee and LeClaire Civic Center also organize an annual Trivia Night to raise money for their joint Benevolent Fund project. The fund, also supported by LeClaire's merchants, offers financial help to those in need, Glispie said. Requests can be made through PPALS. 

"We've helped with anything from utility bills to replacing appliances to travel expenses," she said, thinking back on a visitor who ran out of gas and had no money. 

She is equally proud of the Christmas in LeClaire's impact on the community. "Several of the shopkeepers tell us it's their biggest weekend all year," she said. "Plus, once they come to town, a lot continue to come back."

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