Pickersgill resident seeks to 'make people feel better' with holiday train garden

When Peter White moved to Pickersgill Retirement Community, in Towson, in 2015, he didn’t want to leave behind a Christmas tradition that he and his wife, June, had carried on since the early 1960’s.

The couple would put up a holiday train garden each year in their Glen Arm home to the delight of their children and grandchildren.

Now, the 83-year-old White continues to set up parts of that same train garden at Pickersgill, continuing the tradition as a way to lift the spirits of his neighbors, he said.

The tabletop display, which White calls the “Pickersgill local,” is one of many traditions that Pickersgill staff and residents say is a part of the senior citizen living center’s holiday happenings.

The display includes a church, school, library, bakery, offices and residences surrounded by cotton snow. In the rear, a group of skiers are posed in position next to an ambulance at the ready.

“I joke that that’s what would happen if any of us decided to ski,” said White, who shares a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and a cat named Jenny. “There would need to be an ambulance ready to pick us up.”

White’s holiday-themed model railroad layout and other community events bring Christmas cheer to the residents of Pickersgill and their family members, according to Jim Strom, Pickersgill’s marketing director.

Over the next week, residents will continue to decorate artificial Christmas trees set up on each floor of the independent living residence building and compete in a holiday cookie bake-off.

Meanwhile, the Pickersgill Grill, the center’s cafeteria, is decked out with tinsel, ornaments and other Christmas décor.

“We do what we can to make the holidays special for people,” Strom said.

White said he invites people into his apartment to view the train garden as a way to give everyone a little more hope in life.

His home and the display are open to all Pickersgill residents and their family and friends. Visitors leave with an Andes chocolate mint or candy cane as a parting gift.

“It all fits in with my lesson for life — making people feel better,” White said.

The open invitation is a welcome addition to Pickersgill, resident Marilyn Boggs said.

Boggs, 89, took her daughter, Jennifer Otterbein, and 2-year-old granddaughter, Mayla, to see the train on a recent day.

“It’s adorable,” Boggs said. “It’s a wonderful attempt to bring the past with them when they came here. He’s a very generous man.”

The Towson man said his affection for model trains started as a child when, in the 1930’s, his father, C. McCrea White, would fill a bedroom in the family’s Pennsylvania home with a holiday train garden, White said, adding that the senior White gave up the tradition during World War II, when Americans were asked to turn in their metal objects for the war effort.

However, White restarted the tradition when his brother-in-law gave him his first model train in the early 1960’s as gift, he said, adding that he has kept it up since, though the garden he builds at Pickersgill is slightly smaller than the one he built in Glen Arm.

White downsized his train collection when he moved to Pickersgill due to having less space. The “Pickersgill Local” makes its way around an oval of track perched on small table in the couple’s living room.

Though he hasn’t purchased any new trains recently, White said he enjoys flipping through model railroad catalogs and thinking of the possibilities.

“I’ve added to it bit by bit, but I’m running out of space,” White said.

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