By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily News
Last week six Havre Jaycees loaded into a vehicle and continued a tradition of unknown length - judging the annual Christmas Lighting Contest. The judges visited 16 houses and one business in the communities of Kremlin, Havre and North Havre. They looked at brightness as well as creativity in the Christmas decorations they judged, organizer Amanda Kase said.
The event reflects a smattering of the Jaycees' goals; it's a social event for club members and for the community and it benefits local nonprofit organizations.
The winner chooses a group to receive a $75 donation from the Jaycees. Second place has $50 to donate, and third place has $25. All donations go to local groups, Kase said.
This year's winner was Bud Werbelow of Kremlin. Second place went to the Tip It bar and third place to Tom and Debbie Baker.
Werbelow has been decorating his house for 12 years, he said. He lives across the street from Kremlin-Gildford School, and began because he thought the students would enjoy it.
He was a janitor at Kremlin School for 24 years, and his wife, Elizabeth, was a cook there, he said. But this might be the last year he decorates their Kremlin home. The Werbelows are considering moving to Sheridan, Wyo., to be closer to their children, grand-children and great-grandchildren.
Werbelow is 81 years old, and he does all the work himself, including shimmying along his roof to hang a blue border from it. He said he's been told he should probably give up the roof part of it. Another friend suggested placing a trampoline below where he's working, he joked.
Every year Werbelow's decorations change slightly. This year, he said, he changed all of the bulbs out of the icicle lights on his fence, substituting blue for the original white. It took him hours and hours, he said.
"I've gotten first, second, third, and now first again," he said of the contest results.
Werbelow's display makes use of his garden, including three evergreen trees and several bushes that are all lit. There is also a sled pulled by nine not-so-tiny reindeer, snowman figurines, a Mickey Mouse figure, soldier boys, a nativity scene, a lighted cross and several American flags made of lights. In the back, Werbelow has projected the image of a snowman on his garage, and has another inflated snowman figure. This year he also plays Christmas music out of speakers for part of the day.
Christmas decorations and the American flag are a natural fit for Werbelow. He is a veteran of World War II and was in the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in December and January of 1944.
Sixty years later, Werbelow said, he remembers sleeping outside, just before Christmas, when the temperature was 30 degrees below zero.
Werbelow was nominated for the Jaycees' contest by his neighbors Merle Schend and Kay Robinson. The Werbelows have chosen the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen for the $75 donation.
"I think that at his age - he's 81 years old - he just does such a marvelous job and he's so particular about what he does," Schend said. She said Werbelow is a good neighbor and often contributes to the community.
The Tip It bar has a shorter, but enthusiastic history of participating in the contest. Last year the North Havre bar entered it for the first time and won third place. This time it won second.
"We just lit up more than we did last year," Pat Lowe said. Lowe is the nephew of bar owner Lorraine Tolson. He and Larry Reinowski are responsible for both years' decorations.
Tolson said the decorations have brought a lot of people to the bar and gotten a lot of attention. She said she had not decided on a recipient for the $50 donation.
Lowe said he would suggest the Havre Food Bank.
The third-place winners, Tom and Betty Baker, were not available for comment. They will have $25 to donate to a local organization.
Kase said the homes were judged based on six categories: color, brightness, originality, theme, overall effect, and how eye-catching they are. People could nominate themselves or nominate others.
She said the youngest participant was 14 years old, and as far as she knows, Werbelow was the oldest.
Jaycee treasurer Christy Owens said the Jaycees brought the boy a few gifts for participating.
In other standouts, Kase said she was impressed by the number of houses decorated on Heritage Drive. She counted 12 overall in the area behind Havre High School.