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Christmas cheer in every room


As soon as you step into the home of Tanya Hunter and her fiancé, Charlie Aufenthie, of Marshall, you are immediately taken into a world of Christmas.

In the living room, 180 different scale models of houses, businesses, churches, schools, trees, people, horses and more adorn every available space.

Tanya Hunter of Marshall adjusts one of her Dickens village houses. She has around 200 different buildings in her collection, plus trees, people and more. There are no duplicates. Besides the village, Hunter also has several Christmas trees, vintage Christmas decor and other Christmas decorations in the house. Photo by Scott Thoma

“Someone told me that I don’t have a village here, I have a metropolis,” Hunter laughed.

There is also a fully-decorated Christmas tree in nine rooms of Tanya and Charlie’s house. The dining room has become an Angel Room in honor of her son, Landon, who was killed four years ago in an automobile accident.

Hunter also has an entire wall shelf filled with vintage Christmas decorations in the kitchen area. In fact, there isn’t an area of the house where you won’t feel the Christmas spirit. Even the family dog has his own room that is decorated.

Nothing is thrown together haphazardly in any room. It’s all designed in an artistic and eye-pleasing way.

The village buildings and home draw the most attention and almost take your breath away at first look. Hunter’s interest in village houses began when she was a child living in Wanda, MN.

“The State Bank of Wanda always had a village House collection set up every Christmas and I was fascinated by it,” she said. “In 2010, I bought two buildings from Menards that were on and of the season clearance sale -- a Lobster Shack and an Ingleby Schoolhouse.”

From there, the collection multiplied quickly.

“I get some as gifts, or I buy them mostly at thrift stores or garage sales,” Hunter told. “I don’t usually spend a lot of money on them.”

Among the more special buildings in Hunter’s collection is a Toys for Tots building.

“It reminds me of my mother who helped start the Toys for Tots in Wanda,” said Hunter. “My other favorite building in an orphanage that I got recently because my mom was adopted and that one also makes me think of her.”

At the center of town is a large Christmas tree. Photo by Scott Thoma

Hunter’s daughter also gifted her a Westminster Abbey replica building that even has guards standing out front.

“Another one I really like is the replica of the Minnehaha Court House in Sioux Falls,” Hunter said.

On one wall in the living room, a majestic mountain scene with a moon and stars background on one wall and a partial mountain scene on another, leaving viewers with the impression of a Swiss village. When the scene is lit at night, the scene is even more intensified.

“I start with the mountain, using the boxes the buildings came in to build it up and then cover the boxes with white cloth,” Hunter explained. “It wakes about three days to get everything in place.”

Because the collection has become so large, Hunter doesn’t even have room to displayed them all at one time.

“I have around 200 pieces, but I can only fit around 180 of them in here now, so I change it up a little each year and put different pieces out each year,” she said. “But even though I can’t fit them all in my living room, I still keep collecting them. That’s why I had to rent a storage shed to put everything in.”

Hunter usually begins assembling the villages in early November. They are displayed on several folding tables with white cloth to give the appearance of snow.

Charlie assists with the tables and carrying of the boxes, but this is Hunter’s annual project to enjoy.

“I’m a perfectionist with this collection,” said Hunter. “Everything has to be in its place. But Charlie likes to mess with the pieces when I go to bed. He will put a figure on top of a roof or a person laying across the train tracks just to be funny and to see if I notice ... and I always do.”

Even before they were a couple, Charlie had his own collection of around 10 village buildings that he displayed at his State Farm office in Marshall.

“About the only building I ever bought at full price was a State Farm building I found online,” Hunter said. “I gave it to Charlie to put in his office.”

Hunter said that Christmas is very special to her and she enjoys turning her house into a winter wonderland for her three grandkids (a fourth is on the way).

Vintage Christmas decorations fill a large shelf next to the kitchen. Photo by Scott Thoma

“I love to watch my two-year-old grandson’s face when he sees all this set up,” she said. “I love Christmas and this is a time for children.”

The Hunter/Aufenthie home is part of the Lyon County Historical Museum’s annual Walking Tour this year on Saturday, Dec. 4 in Marshall.

“My daughter doesn’t want all of this when I’m gone,” said Hunter. “I told her she can do what she wants with them but that I want one of the little churches to go on my casket’s spray of flowers when I die.”

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