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Swanville man takes Christmas decor to a whole new level

    After making 17 trips to England, it’s not too surprising that lifelong Swanville resident Lowell Drager is influenced by that country when it comes to decorating his home. It’s never more true than when he’s decorating for Christmas. His living area becomes a Dicken’s Christmas, with about 150 Department 56 lighted village buildings accompanied by somewhere around 1,000 small figurines. Some of the village pieces stay year-round. “That number is increasing every year,” Lowell says. “It saves work in November.” Christmas is the only holiday that surpasses Lowell’s normally opulent decorating sensibility. He pulls out all the stops. “When I’m finished, every flat surface is covered,” he says. He considered cutting back this year, but when his young friend Micah Tanner offered to help, he started pulling out the boxes. “All of my decorations are stored in cabinets and shelving in my basement, and it is a lot of trips up and down the stairs.” Micah agrees and also commented that everything is labeled and organized in the original boxes. Case in point: the old pump organ in the living room displays figurines representing the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. That means twelve drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking…if you add all those up, you find 78 musical miniatures artfully arranged. Since some of the musical verses were represented by only one figurine in the original set, Lowell bought additional sets in order to be true to the number, resulting in many little boxes. Lowell was grateful for Micah’s help when it came to finding, carrying and opening the boxes and handing the figures, right down to the partridge in a pear tree, to Lowell for arranging. “I have been doing the decorating for about 25 years and have had help only two or three other years,” says Lowell. “I met Micah about seven months ago. He has grown to be a trusted, loyal and good friend during that time, and recently I’ve welcomed him in my home as if he were a second brother or a son to me.” Lowell is no stranger to young people. He taught English, directed theatrical productions and coached the speech team for hundreds of Swanville students over his 31-year career. Since his retirement in 1999, Lowell has been able to devote even more time to special projects: documenting and photographing each headstone in five area cemeteries; compiling and annually updating a Swanville school alumni list; serving as unofficial town historian as well as public relations inspector and co-owner, along with about 60 others, of the community-owned Granny’s Café; and adding to his many collections, which include coins, stamps, Tiffany- style lamps, Hummel figurines and plates, Liberty bells, Splitrock Lighthouse scenes, clocks, Teddy bears, books, movies and art. Always on the lookout for treasures, whether in secondhand shops or furniture stores, Lowell has recently added barrister bookcases, furniture and a new lamp. His Christmas display takes into account the new furnishings. “This year, along with Christmas decorations, I’ve added several new pieces of furniture and four original watercolors and prints by Nancy Leasman, who painted the mural in the Swanville Library lobby.” Lowell starts decorating Nov. 1 and will continue until Dec. 1 and then quit, even if a few pieces remain in boxes. The last three years he’s been done by Thanksgiving and, with Micah’s help, hopes to make that goal this year. He admits that sometimes he gets tired of the month-long decorating marathon. This year, Micah provides the needed youthful energy. “He’s my motivation,” says Lowell. The dozen fiber optic trees, each with different-themed ornaments are up. The Santa collection is gathered on, under and around the coffee table. The commemorative corner with photos of family and friends who have passed on is intermingled with meaningful mementos. The Christopher Radko ornaments shine in the entryway. The Campbell family (Campbell’s Soup dolls, one for each member of Lowell’s family- his great-grandfather was Daniel H. Campbell who homesteaded in Culdrum Township before Swanville became a town) front a wall of family portraits and are enhanced by garlands and poinsettias. Various nativity scenes have been placed in their accustomed sites. Soon the lights of the last of the village pieces will have been tested and their cords discretely tucked away from view. When the electric candles in the windows facing 3rd Street are on, that means Lowell has finished decorating and the welcome mat is out for visitors. For 45 years his mother put candles in all the windows, but Lowell has cut down that number and devised the signal which his friends, neighbors, colleagues and former students understand. He doesn’t open his home to strangers, though his friends often bring along guests who sign the guest book and become friends. Visitors can come back a second or third time since Lowell keeps the decorations up all of December and through most of January… “until Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

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