When Rita Vredenburg moved from Texas to Kansas last year to be closer to her sister, she brought her village with her.
The Christmas Miracle Village, that is.
Vredenburg has a collection of holiday lights, Nativity scenes and animated displays that light up the night in rural Stafford County. The scene on north U.S. 281 — about a mile south of the Barton County line — invites motorists to stop and walk through. If some of the elves, Santas and other characters look familiar, it’s because Vredenburg purchased several pieces from the former Christmas Fantasy Village, a rural Great Bend attraction started by Bob and Carol Martin many years ago.
Her sister, Debbie Clothier, lives next door and helps Vredenburg assemble the displays. They are masters of paint and plywood, hot glue and glitter. "I even learned to weld," Vredenburg said, showing off a metal train engine in her backyard. Her husband Robert is the electrician and sometimes puts on a Santa suit to entertain guests.
On Wednesday they were battling Kansas wind, and this Saturday they’ll be riding in the Christian Motorcyclists Association float in Great Bend’s holiday parade. But starting this Sunday, the village will light up most nights at dusk, and especially Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Christmas Miracle Village isn’t really a commercial exhibit, the sisters said. Sure, they’ll take donations and sell some hot chocolate and fudge, but they don’t charge admission and they aren’t trying to attract huge crowds — especially not this year, when things are just getting started. The village was started in 2004 as a labor of love, and eventually grew to fill about an acre.
"I want to keep it personal," Vredenburg said.
The beginning of CMV
The beginning of CMV
The Vredenburgs were foster parents in Texas, and built their Christmas Miracle Village with children in mind. Rita was especially mindful of children from broken homes. As she talked about mangers and Nativity scenes, she discovered many of the kids didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about.
The "miracle" of Christmas Miracle Village is "the miracle of Christ’s birth at Christmas time," she said. "That’s what we celebrate."
In Texas and now in Kansas, it didn’t take long for friends and neighbors to learn about the holiday collection, and many have added to it over the years. "We take a lot of people’s throw-away stuff and turn it into things we can use," Clothier said.
People are encouraged to call before they drive out if they want to be sure Santa Claus will be present and the hot chocolate will be ready, Vredenburg said. Her phone number is (620) 617-5995, and Clothier’s number is (620) 960-0767.