Holiday contest winners light up the night

BRIGHT LIGHTS A yard full of inflatable figures and whimsical lights helped this home on Prince George Street snag one of the winning spots in the Laurel Civic Improvement Committee's 2012 Holiday Spirit Decorating Contest.
BRIGHT LIGHTS A yard full of inflatable figures and whimsical lights helped this home on Prince George Street snag one of the winning spots in the Laurel Civic Improvement Committee's 2012 Holiday Spirit Decorating Contest. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing)

In a season where tiny white lights, window wreaths, inflated Santas and lighted candy canes seem to take over the landscape in Laurel, the Laurel Civic Improvement Committee had a tough job: Narrow down the multitude of twinkling, blinking and even singing holiday displays to the top 10 winners of the city's annual Holiday Spirit Decorating Contest.

The committee relies on others to nominate the homes and businesses in the city that become part of the contest.


"We originally had 23 nominations," City Council member Ed Ricks, who heads the Civic Improvement Committee, said. But some of those nominations turned out to be outside of the city's boundaries, so that narrowed the field. Still, it was a difficult decision, Ricks said.

Among the 10 winners in this year's contest were a Laurel Lakes townhouse decked out with wreaths, apples and pineapples as inspired by Colonial Williamsburg; a house whose yard was chock-a-block with inflatable figures; and a display that was programmed to blink to the beat of music broadcast on 93.5.


Ricks and Civic Improvement Committee member Donna Makowelski judged the houses Dec. 19, and placed a sign in the front yard of those houses that won first, second or third place.

Looking ahead to the 2013 contest, Ricks said the committee is considering judging decorations by categories, such as traditional or modern.

He also said they are exploring ways to get more people involved in the competition; because decorations have to be nominated, Ricks said, many competitive decorations were not judged for the contest.

Ricks said he was impressed with all the displays he and Makowelski saw in Laurel this year, and was glad to see so much spirit.

"It's good to do this," Ricks said of the contest, adding that the decorations enhance the city's landscape. When residents and business owners improve their own property, he said, they aren't just doing it for their own good.

"It's for all of us," he said.

From Williamsburg to whimsy

A love of history in general, and Colonial Williamsburg in particular, inspired the window wreaths and apple and pineapple door decoration at Gene and Ann Elizabeth Zibrat's townhouse on Oakpointe Drive.

"We were at the grand illumination at Williamsburg three weeks ago," Gene Zibrat said.

Nestled among the traditional decorations in their front yard were a Naval Academy banner, while a service star flag could be seen in the livingroom window and an American flag with a Marine Corp ribbon flew outside the front door. The military embellishments honored a nephew who graduated from the Naval Academy and now flies Osprey military aircraft for the Marines, said Gene Zibrat, who is himself retired from the Air Force.

This year's award was the second win for Christina Tellor, who said she gets help from her dad, Robert, and boyfriend, Glenn Baker, in decorating her home on the corner of Domer Avenue and Fourth Street.

"Dad does the lights around the window and Glenn does the lights along the gutter," Tellor said, adding that it takes a couple of days to set up the display, which includes a lighted mailbox with Snoopy on the top and Woodstock peeping out when the mailbox flap mechanically opens.

Creating winnning decorations for the holidays is a seasonal achievement for Tellor; but year-round, she's the top female bowler for Maryland Special Olympics.

With the outside lights turned on and the inside lights turned off, a rambler on Harrison Drive gives the appearance of a gingerbread house, with a lighted candy cane border along the front, and white lights outlining a large tree. But it's actually the home of Kelly and Chris Pickett and their daughter, Kasey, second-place winners in the contest.

Laudis and Sara Turney have lived in their Nichols Drive home since 1953. When decorating for the contest this year, Laudis Turney, 89, said he decided not to go up on the roof.

"I'm decorating less in the last couple years," Turney said. His second-place winning yard decorations included a nativity scene; inflated snowmen; lighted candy canes; and a red, white and blue wreath on the front door.

Steve Greer used 600 lights just for his yard sign that reads "Tune to 93.5" and leads listeners to the broadcasted music that sets the beat for his blinking light display outside the house he and his wife, Barbara, live in on Sandy Spring Road.

Greer said he taught himself how to program the lights to follow the music, and set up the display over a couple of weekends. But he didn't add any lights to his roof.

"I just don't like heights," Greer said.

A first-place winner on Ninth Street, the home of Anne Kennedy is tucked away down a long driveway. But a multitude of lights in all colors outline windows and doors and are spread across shrubs under the window, making the house visible from the street.

Three houses on Prince George Street were winners. Greg and Peggy Sweitzer's Victorian home in the 600 block, with traditional decorations, is across the street from a more modern scene: Ernest Johnson's award-winning front yard, which overflows with inflatable snowmen, santas and even the Grinch in his sleigh.

Two blocks away, another Victorian was a repeat winner in the contest. Karen Lubieniecki said she and her husband, Ken Skrivseth, "tweeked" their display this year, adding some brass planters they picked up from a giveaway on their neighborhood listserve and some lighted packages and new trees.

The bright blue lights at the entrance to Steward Manor Apartments off Route 197 was the only winner that wasn't a single family home. Leasing manager Debbie Gunson said the owner, Southern Management, hires a decorating company, but the property managers tell them what they want and where they want it, choosing blue lights and a big wreath on the building this year.

This was a repeat win for the apartment complex, but it was a nice surprise, Gunson said.

"When I got to work and saw the sign, it was nice to see it, I was pretty excited," she said. "It made us feel good that people were acknowledging what we do for the residents."

2012 Holiday Contest winners

First place:

7210 Sandy Spring Road, Steve Greg

619 Ninth St., Anne Kennedy

14221 Oakpointe Drive, Gene and Ann Elizabeth Zibrat

Second place:

909 Nichols Drive, Lardis and Sara Turney

401 Domer Ave., Christina Tellor

Steward Manor Apartments

421 Prince George St., Karen Lubieniecki and Ken Skrivseth

1026 Harrison Drive, Kelly, Chris and Kasey Pickett

Third place:

609 Prince George St., Greg and Peggy Sweitzer

612 Prince George St., Ernest Johnson