Inspiring Okeechobee… Tysons share Christmas village with neighbors

OKEECHOBEE — It wouldn’t be Christmas over on Northwest Fifth Street off of U.S. 98 without the Tysons’ Christmas Village. It’s been there for over 20 years, and everyone who drives by expects to see it. That’s why even though Kenneth Tyson was diagnosed with lymphoma last year, he and his wife Alice didn’t let that stop them from putting up the many, many handmade wooden decorations that cover their yard.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Kenneth and Alice Tyson have been adding to their handmade Christmas Village for about 20 years. Mr. Tyson does not let lymphoma keep him from his love of woodworking and the excitement of adding to their Christmas collection.

When Mr. Tyson retired from the county road department 20 years ago, he decided to finally take the time to learn woodworking. It was something he had always wanted to do but with working full time and raising his two sons, he never had the time to spare. Mrs. Tyson worked for the boys’ school until she retired 15 years ago, and some of their first projects went out there, they said.

They purchased all the supplies before he even retired, and it was waiting out there in the workshop for him when he finally made the big move. They got a catalog from a company called Winfield, and it has all the patterns in it, said Mrs. Tyson. That’s how they got started. Every year they get a new catalog from Winfield and they order new patterns from the catalog. Each year, they make some new figures or buildings to add to the collection, and then sometimes they replace things from the collection if they are getting too old or worn out. This will be the last year they will use their giant manger scene. They plan to make a much smaller version to use next year — about 2/3 the size of the one they have now. “That’s just the way you do it,” said Mr. Tyson. “You take out the ones that are getting bad, and replace them with new ones.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
These are just a few of the many handmade wooden yard decorations made by Kenneth and Alice Tyson to display in their Christmas village.

They have a school out there now, and next year, they would like to add a school bus with children.

The Tysons work on the projects together. They lay carbon paper out on the plywood and place the patterns on top and trace over each little line. Then, Mr. Tyson cuts them out. Next, they paint each piece, and finally they go back over the lines with a black pen to emphasize them, said Mrs. Tyson. “We’ve probably got every color of paint in the rainbow, and some that aren’t in the rainbow,” said Mr. Tyson.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
The Tysons’ sons Ron and Dennis help their parents set up the decorations every year.

They have always enjoyed Christmas and they like the idea of sharing the things they build with people around town as they drive by. It makes them happy to know people are enjoying their Christmas village. Whenever they see people around town, they always ask if they are going to put their stuff up this year, said Mr. Tyson.

Up until three years ago, the two of them put all the decorations up themselves, but then their son Ron started coming over to help, and the last two years, their other son, Dennis, came as well. Prior to that, Dennis lived in Michigan, said Mrs. Tyson, and Ron just lived over on the coast. A grandson has helped for the last couple years too, she said. “Dennis flew in from California,” she said.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble

“We use 5/8 inch plywood,” said Mr. Tyson, “and it is pretty heavy, but 1/2 inch plywood won’t hold up.” Mr. Tyson has lymphoma, and the boys know their parents really want the decorations up, so they come and do it for them. They have one little shed in their backyard they store everything in, and it’s a very big job to get all of the things out and installed every year and then to put them away again after the holidays, so they come and help. “They know it’s important to us,” said Mrs. Tyson. “They come and spend all weekend with us.” They were worried they would have to stop, but the kids said, “No, we are going to make sure it gets done,” said Mrs. Tyson. “Well, people won’t let me stop,” laughed Mr. Tyson. “We didn’t realize how many people knew about it until we would go somewhere and people would ask if we were going to put it up,” said Mrs. Tyson.

It is a very expensive hobby, but they feel it is worth it, said Mrs. Tyson.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble

The decorations are all lit up at night. They used to just use spotlights, but this year, their son Ron added lights around a lot of the houses too. The decorations are arranged into a path and they welcome anyone to walk along the path and enjoy the lights. That’s why we do it, they said. They have no idea how many there are, but Mr. Tyson said there are a bunch. The lights are set on timers so they come on automatically. If you would like to see them, you can go out to 1971 Northwest Fifth Street across the road from the 4-H/Extension Office. If you wait until after dark when the lights are on, you will really enjoy it.

Editor’s note: The Lake Okeechobee News is compiling a list of homes and businesses decorated for the holidays so readers can enjoy seeing the decorations. To add an address to the list, email the information to okeenews@newszap.com.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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