Silver bells: Christmas wonderland celebrates 25 years

There’s Christmas spirit, and then there’s allowing the hoopla of the season to seep into every aspect of life.

For the last 25 years, Tom Devoe has comfortably managed somewhere in the middle with his holiday display at 3016 Judson Ave.

The 69-year-old’s white hair and bristly beard are his signature look from March to Dec. 26. Neighbors, grandkids and strangers greet him as “Santa.” Most of his purchases have to do with the holidays. Anonymous donors leave wreaths and artificial trees and elf-like dolls on his doorstep. Christmas decorations stay in his yard year-round.

It’s all for one good reason, he says.

Since 1986, Devoe has transformed the yards of his two North Las Vegas properties into a free, public winter wonderland at 3016 Judson Ave.

“It all started over a stinkin’ teeter totter,” said Devoe’s wife, Linda.

Devoe “had to have it,” he said of the setup at Ralph Jones Display, 2576 E. Charleston Blvd.

The teeter totter, adorned with candy canes and animatronic elves, needed some of Devoe’s tender loving care — and expertise with electronics. He replaced the motor with that of a windshield wiper, and his first outdoor display was born.

Devoe placed the one-of-a-kind display in his yard and started to add other rare conversation pieces. He purchased lights with timed bulbs that “chased” each other down the strand before they were sold commercially. He and friends hauled truckloads of snow from Mount Charleston for the yard and rooftop, although the touch lasts only a few days, Linda said.

Multiply adding a new display, tree or attraction by 25 years, and you have the current state of the Devoe corner lot.

Devoe can only estimate how many pieces or dollars are invested in the sprawling display. There are about 25 artificial trees, 10 buildings (Santa’s workshop, command center, train village, living room, etc.) he built, dozens of animatronic figures he rigged, tens of thousands of LED lights and beyond, he figures.

The 2011 additions include Santa’s post office and a custom wreath emblazoned with a “25” to mark the silver anniversary. About 600 visitors saw the new pieces on Thanksgiving, when the Devoes opened for business.

The couple don’t dwell too much on their landmark year in “business.”

“It just turned up one day, and it was 25 years later,” Linda said.

At first, Devoe set 25 years as his cap for the commitment. Now, he said he’ll do it as long as he’s able.

There have been days thwarted by rain or wind, but thieves and vandals have never dampened his spirit, he said.

The couple have had visitors as young as 3 days and as old as 92 visit with Devoe as Santa. Linda said she’ll never forget the years a foster mom would bring her foster kids in for a keepsake photo to give to their adoptive families.

Second-generation visitors are turning up “more often than I’d like to admit,” Linda said.

To many visitors, the Devoes’ yard display is a family tradition.

“People remember things, and you go, ‘Huh?’ ” Linda said of the ever-changing pieces.

Devoe, a retired lawn business owner, adds new pieces constantly and said he thinks about his wonderland all year. He scopes sales and thrift stores and draws inspiration from Ralph Jones Displays and Disneyland.

“A lot of it is trial and error,” he said. “It takes a month to put up. Linda and our friend take a week off work at Thanksgiving to put it up. Every day I go to out and add to it.”

The attraction is free, save for a train ride, photos with Santa and hot cocoa from Linda’s “Mrs. Claus’ Hot Chocolate” stand, all sold for a small fee.

When passing through the display on a recent December night, Devoe passed a young girl strongly beguiled by his Santa-like look. He offered a wave and surveyed his Christmas kingdom.

“I just love Christmas,” he said. “I guess this is my way of giving back.”

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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