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Holiday decorating contest winners light the night

By Patti Restivo

6:00 AM EST, December 23, 2013

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Laurel city lights are outshining anything the night sky has to offer, thanks to the residents and business owners who've decked their halls and hearths, and front yards, in celebration of the season. Some decorations were nominated to participate in the annual Holiday Spirit Decorating contest sponsored by the Laurel Civic Improvement Committee and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

According to City Council member Ed Ricks, who heads the Civic Improvement Committee and helped judge the competition, the event is all about improving the city of Laurel for its residents.  

"It's this kind of enthusiasm that will make that situation happen," he said, indicating the multitude of sparkling lights on the townscape while driving through neighborhoods to judge contest entries Dec. 18.

Fellow Ward 1 City Council member Valerie Nicholas joined Ricks to help choose the three top winners out of 10 recipients of Holiday Spirits Award yard signs provided by Laurel Department of Parks and Recreation.

Laurel residents and business owners could nominate their own properties or others, but the displays were required to be located within city limits.

This year there were 27 qualified entries: 23 were residences, with 19 homes located in Ward 1 and four in Ward 2; and four were businesses, three of which were located on Main Street. Ricks said that participation this year was increased a little from 2012, which had started at 23 entries before disqualifying a few entries that were located outside city limits.

First place in the contest was awarded to the home of Dung and John Luong on Downdale Drive in Ward 2. Elaborate lights and yard decorations spread across two sides of the Luongs' upscale single-family home, and the marble foo dog sculptures flanking its formal entrance sport red velvet bows.

Kevin Luong, who was home to accept the award, said that he and his sister do most of the decorating work for his father.

"My dad has the Christmas spirit," Luong said. "He likes to do this for the kids in the neighborhood."

Laudis and Sara Turney, last year's second-place winners who've lived on Nichols Drive in Ward 1 for almost 60 years, snagged second place again this year. The Laudis Turney, 90, is a retired member of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and a World War II veteran. He incorporated many red, white and blue lights and American flags into his display, along with a nativity scene and a cheerful inflated snowman.

Turney said he did the work himself and was still "switching bulbs around."

Third place was awarded to the Old Town Victorian home on Prince George Street owned by Greg and Peggy Sweitzer. Lots of elegant greenery and red bows drape the outside of the old-fashioned white picket fence, framing deep red poinsettias and bows, a Christmas tree, white wreaths and many white lights within.

Greg Sweitzer credited his wife for all the decorating ideas, saying that he just helped her set up. The Sweitzers weren't home when their Holiday Spirits Award sign was delivered, and Sweitzer said they were pleased when they discovered it, and "honored to be recognized this way. We want to do what we can to make Christmas a little brighter in the town."

Overload of lights

Keith Fitzsimons said he "never knows when to stop" and that he overloaded his electrical circuits installing what he calls Candy Cane Overload at his modern townhouse on Haines Court. Fitzsimons' dad, Leonard, who is a retired electrical engineer, had to bail him out by redirecting some of the power.

Fitzsimons said he is happy that Candy Cane Overload is up and running and enjoys continuing to work on the display.

Christina Tellor decorates her home on the corner of Fourth Street and Domer Avenue every year with lights, candy canes and inflated holiday figurines with the help of her dad, Robert, and boyfriend, Glenn Baker.

Tellor, who's also the top female bowler for the Maryland Special Olympics, was quite surprised to have been nominated again this year and had hugs for all when she accepted her third Holiday Spirit Award.

"I feel very proud of this award," she said. "The porch lights are my favorite."

Ann Elizabeth Zibrat and her husband, Gene, won one of the three first place Holiday Spirit Awards given out last year and said they are still inspired by the grand illumination at Williamsburg they attended a few weeks before last year's contest judging.

Elizabeth Zibrat decorated their brick townhouse on Oakpointe Drive with natural materials wherever possible. Six pine wreaths adorn her windows and front door, and she ordered the colonial lanterns lining the entrance sidewalk directly from Williamsburg.  A pineapple and apple arrangement over the front door symbolizes hospitality.

Zibrat says that the tradition in Victorian times was to "do little trees." She adorned the two small trees on either side of her front porch with white lights, red apples and gold balls to honor the Marine Corps; they have a nephew serving in the Marines and an uncle who is a Marine Corps veteran.

Deborah Tedeschi was in for a surprise when she returned home from shopping. Her husband, Joe, accepted the Holiday Spirit Award sign for the whimsical exterior, roof and well-designed inset decor that she created for their Victorian home in the 500 block of Prince George Street.

Antiques, Crafts and Collectibles, owned by David Gresham and Sandra Umstotat, was one of two Main Street businesses that received a Holiday Spirit Award. Their shop at 420 Main St. displayed poinsettias, pine wreaths, an old fashioned life-size St. Nick and pillows embroidered with Santa's face resting on wicker furniture on its front wrap-around porch.

First-time participant Sean Patrick's Pet Spa on the 500 block of Main Street was awarded a Holiday Spirit Award sign for displaying Rufus, a giant inflatable dog, on the two-story shop's rooftop, in concert with a festive light display on the storefront windows and door.

Owner Sean Patrick credits Justin Monroe, one of the spa's groomers, with doing most of the decorating work.

"It would be great if all the businesses on Main Street would participate in decorating their shops for the holidays," Patrick said. "Main Street could become known as a holiday destination for shoppers to bring their children and enjoy the holiday lights."

Holiday Spirit Decorating Contest winners

14115 Downdale Drive, John Luong, first place

909 Nichols Drive, Laudis Turney, second place

609 Prince George St., Peggy Sweitzer, third place

503 Prince George St., Deborah Tedeschi

7607 Haines Ct., Keith Fitzsimons

801 Greenhill Ave., Allen Libbee

401 Domer Ct., Christina Tellor

14221 Oakpointe Drive, Ann Elizabeth Zibrat

512 Main St., Sean Patrick’s Pet Spa

420 Main St., Antiques, Crafts, and Collectibles, owners David Gresham and Sandra Umstot