Decorating much more than a pastime for co-winners of CYCO contest

Tom and Diana Overmyer, winners of the "Most Creative" award in the Culver Youth Community Organization's first annual Christmas decorating contest (the Jim and Charlotte Hahn house on Lakeview Street won "Best Traditional" in the contest), aren't new to winning decorating contests, and they certainly aren't new to delighting community members with their array of outdoor Christmas decorations.

Diana Overmyer has been living at the Marmont Street home some 30 years now, and has been engaged in some form of outdoor holiday decorating all along, though it's grown considerably from earlier days.

"I've always liked Christmas," she explains. "My mother did it (outdoor decorating), and I just got it from her and just continued each year adding more and more."

As a matter of fact, her penchant for doing so is what brought Diana and Tom together.

"She's afraid of heights," says Tom, a Culver native who grew up in the neighborhood. "She and her son were trying to put up lights. I used to build towers for Pi-Rod, so I wasn’t afraid of heights, and I came and helped. That's how we met!"

The Overmyers' display doesn't consist only of lights. A variety of Christmas-themed items, three-dimensional and otherwise, lighted and not, moving or stationary, have become mainstays in the yard and on the trees and house itself, back, front, and side.

The two began creating their own wooden decorations after Diana's brother made a wooden snowman which has become a regular feature. Tom cut the wood and Diana did the pattern-based painting for angels, Nativity scenes, and others.

Each year, the Overmyers try to add a new item, and they make a point of mixing up the locations of what they can, sometimes rotating a few items out of the lineup for a year.

All of this effort (Tom says if he worked non-stop, it would amount to perhaps a week and a half of steady labor) actually begins in October. As many Culverites have noticed, the Overmyer home is also one of the most notable spots in town for Halloween decorating, and that's when the curtain lights employed in their Christmas display are hung, which also avoids the possibility of the snow and cold of December.

And before the outdoor work commences, there are a few evenings indoors just testing the lights (there are 4,500 just for the curtain lights, and Tom estimates between 11,000 and 15,000 lights total, though they've never officially counted). The less informed Christmas decorating aficionado may be interested to learn a special "gun" may be purchased which, when aimed gradually along each light strand, can detect bad spots preventing lights from functioning, a labor saving device Tom says is "worth every penny."

The couple added seven outlets around the house hitched to their own dedicated breaker ("NIPSCO loves us," quips Diana), and they've saved considerable work in more recent years with the installation of remote controls, so getting the show started no longer involves heading out into the cold.

They've had to add more lights through the years as their trees have grown, and have transitioned to a long pole and taller ladders in order to facilitate hanging the lights, something Tom does in spite of increasing physical difficulty each year.

"It's a lot of work, but we do it mainly for the kids and older people who enjoy seeing it," Tom says. "It's not for our entertainment; it's for everybody else. That's the spirit behind Christmas."

People have stopped from surrounding communities to ask when the lights will come on, and around the year 2000, when the Overmyers really stepped up the level of decorations, people from Chicago began asking. Neighbors have sent thank you cards expressing appreciation for their efforts.

Perhaps the most touching such expression came from a woman who teared up when telling Tom how much her son -- who had recently died -- loved seeing the couple's decorated house.

A more official form of recognition came in 2003, when the Culver parks department chose the Overmyers' house as the winner of a decorating contest it sponsored.

The couple says they plan to keep up their decorating as long as they can -- both this season and from year to year. They generally leave the display up into February or even early March.

"People ask us when we'll quit, and I say I don't know," says Diana.

"As long as I can continue to climb a ladder," adds Tom, "I will continue to do it."

It's a safe bet many in Culver and beyond hope that ability continues for many more years.