Stella Kootsikas Angelucci and her husband of 26 years, Julius Angelucci, were eager to show off their holiday decorated house.
Their surname, by the way, means Light of the Angels in Italian. Perfect for the Holiday Season.
"We're ready for you," Stella said as we approached their home in the Fair Oaks on the Magothy community in Severna Park.
The couple's mailbox was the first clue about the twosome's festive approach to the holidays. It is wrapped with a photo of Santa Claus. "Naughty or Nice?" the old elf is asking.
Dangling from a bare tree in the yard are dozens of round glass ornaments. The front of the one-story residence, built in 1966, is festooned with garlands of fir and eight wreaths. A trio of oversized glass balls take up the seating area of a white cast iron love seat and the doormat spells out "JOY" in spirited, Christmasy way.
That's just the beginning.
Stepping inside their ranch-style residence was akin to walking into a winter wonderland.
Where the collecting bug began
Stella moved to the Fair Oaks community in 1971. Fair Oaks only had 50 homes at the time. Today, there are over 150 residences. Some, including the Angelucci's home, have views of woodland-lined Cattail Creek.
A first generation Greek-American whose parents were processed through Ellis Island, she migrated to Maryland nearly 10 years earlier. Her childhood best friend from their hometown of Mitchell, South Dakota, was marrying a boy from Baltimore. Stella was a member of the wedding party. She caught the bouquet. Another cute boy, Nicholas Kootsikas, caught the garter.
They were married soon after. After graduation from the then-named Towson State College, Stella's career as a physical education instructor began at Southern High in Baltimore City in 1964. The couple had four children before her husband passed away in 1987. By then, Stella had been teaching in Anne Arundel County on and off since 1971, in the then Old Mill Senior High and at Jessup Elementary.
At a dance at the Knights of Columbus Columbian Center in Severna Park in 1988, she met Julius Angelucci. Both Anne Arundel County teachers, they found they had many teacher friends in common. A father of two children from his first marriage, Julius had a 37-year career in the county, most of it as the Technology Education and Industrial Arts instructor at the former Brooklyn Park High and Andover High schools, now North County High. The final years of his career were at Crofton Middle School. Together, the couple has 16 grandchildren, with another grandson on the way; and one great-grandson.
Both retired by 2001.
And, Julius is a first-generation Italian American. Like Stella's parents, his parents and an older sister came through Ellis Island, too. His family settled in Carolina, West Virginia, a coal mining town.
On a trip to a gathering of his fraternity brothers at Fairmont State University in West Virginia in 1988, Julius wanted to purchase a souvenir for Stella. At a gift shop in the town, she selected a miniature of a building she'd once visited in London, The Curiosity Shop, part of the Dickens' Village by Department 56.
It was the first piece in a grand collection of Department 56 buildings and accessories that is now beautifully arranged in vignettes in cabinets, shelves and on a mantel, over house's main floor and basement.
Though they've since purchased 180 houses and 245 accessories, "The Curiosity Shop is still my favorite piece," Stella said.
In addition, they collect Cat's Meow Village pieces, flat painted wooden depictions of sites they've visited, like the Naval Academy Chapel. Those occupy the ledges formed above doorways and windows.
That's not all.
Lots of love and laughter
"We keep the Department 56 vignettes up all year 'round," Julius said. "I do the 'landscaping' and Stella does the arranging of the buildings, accents and people – and the dusting and cleaning."
They both laughed.
The two keep busy during the holiday season. The day after Thanksgiving, he began putting up their Christmas decorations.
"We have three large trees, three medium-sized trees, and eight small trees," said Stella. "And, three nativity scenes."
One tree holds is decorated with hand-made ornaments created from glass beads strung on wire. It is called "Aunt Jennie's tree because all the ornaments were crafted by Stella's maternal aunt.
An all-white tree is The White House Tree. Its bears official White House and Secret Service Agency ornaments – yes, there is such a thing. The latest White House ornament is the first one to light up.
The couple also has ornament collections of child-like cherubs and gingerbread folks.
There is a collection, too, of tatted or crocheted lace medallions or doilies. Several have been attached to green velvet backing, slipped into a circular mat and framed. Others are placed around the house.
"I was never going to collect anything," Stella said. Julius grinned and glanced up at the framed family photos and paintings on the walls.
"I was never going to have doilies," Stella continued.
"Famous last words."
They both laugh.
Julius can't complain.
He's got a growing duck collection in one of the house's four bedrooms that has been converted to his office and reading room. Plucky ducks adorn pillows on the plaid couch, wing above the couch in framed prints, or paddle across the roll top blonde wooden desk as tiny decoys.
One of the bedrooms, painted a serene shade of blue and decorated with soft pastel water-color tulip prints, is called "Georgia's Room" for one of their daughters.
"Tom's Room" is decorated in homage to Stella's sons Nicholas Jr. and Thomas, both graduates of the Air Force Academy and currently pilots. The wallpaper on one wall is a repetitive pattern of the Air Force crest and the spread, featuring a compass rose, is stitched in Air Force Falcons colors of blue and silver.
Too busy to be really retired
Stella turned the lights on in a modern cabinet next to the breakfast table and within view of the kitchen. The glass front wooden hutch stands on four legs and has five shelves filled with Department 56 houses and characters, including a windmill with rotating vanes.
"Julius made that for me," she said. "We needed something that cleared the heating duct on the lower wall, and there was nothing that met our needs in the stores."
Suspended in a window next to the cabinet were three stained glass angels. Stella made those in a class at the Arnold Senior Activity Center.
She keeps busy taking courses in stained glass art, now, at the Pasadena Center; ceramics and line-dancing at the Arnold center, tap and jazz dance classes at the South County center, art appreciation courses at the Anne Arundel Community College and swimming twice weekly.
A few years ago, this dynamic duo joined the Annapolis Villagers Club which meets bimonthly at American Legion Post No. 175 in Severna Park. Its members collect Department 56, Lemax and other small houses. In meetings, members share display techniques and discuss how to craft realistic-looking bodies of water from wax, and to use a hot wire hook to carve backdrops of mountains or other objects. There, Julius learned how to take insulation board to create his mountains, his cobblestone courtyards and myriad other amazing landscapes. The club's website is www.annapolisvillagers.org .
Grinning like the White Rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland," the two invited us to explore the basement.
It was like going through the looking glass.
The basement is Fantasy Land.
On one side of the staircase, on top of a large table, is a village tableau encircled by a working model train track. It is a complete Dickens' era scene set in old London, with a Tower of London and Big Ben. The vista is complete with a second, smaller village set up to look like it is on a distant hill.
On wall is taken up with 16 different vignettes. There are ocean waterfront villages, replete with blue waxy waves washing up on beaches; riverside towns with riprap shorelines; a village clustered behind the tiny stone walls of a castle or the brickwork of a town border; and mountaintop scenes with ice-covered ranges in the distance. The two began installing the vignettes in a shelving unit designed and built by Julius, during a snowstorm in 2003 that kept them homebound for nearly two weeks.
"We worked on it for six to eight hours a day," said Stella.
"My favorite is the fox hunt scene," said Julius. He pointed out the deer romping in the woods adjoining a country road, and the hunted fox hiding near a fence post.
His job, Julius added, was the woodworking, grouting and wiring. He's found insulation board has many uses. In addition to sculpting mountains, he can paint or score it to resemble brick or stone. For her part, Stella spends hours arranging the houses and characters.
And, they don't stay put.
"If I see a character has spent too much time in one town, I move him or her to another scene," she said. "This is something we love to do together."
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