An Elm Grove family has made a significant donation to this year’s Christian Women’s rummage sale at St. Joseph Parish, Wauwatosa. It comes in the form of a large and carefully preserved collection of Dept. 56 collectible Christmas village pieces.
Chandy and Omana George, now residents of Austin, Texas, have been compiling the collection – which includes over 200 individual pieces – for more than 20 years.
“We had a small village first and then we kept adding, and of course my wife got more invested in the Dept. 56 (pieces) and we started collecting those, the special ones we started collecting. And then of course the paraphernalia along with it to make a bigger village,” said Chandy George.
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The Georges would assemble the village in its expanding entirety every Christmas season in their basement in Elm Grove, to the delight of their daughter Priya, now 38, who has cerebral palsy. The family also invited many of Priya’s schoolmates and friends from her involvement at St. Ann’s Center and the Goodwill program, as well as patients of Chandy and Omana’s — he is a pediatrician and she worked in rehab medicine.
“It takes a couple of months to put it on,” said Chandy. “We added the oceanside – Dept. 56 came out with that series so we added those, and then of course we got all the different animals and all that that goes in the zoo, and of course the fish, and I had to create the Arctic area – that’s how it got expanded like that.
We didn’t think about the cost, we just kept on adding!”
The Georges retired to Texas earlier this year, and weren’t interested in hauling the extensive collection across the country.
That’s when they called Fran Tollefson, a volunteer for the St. Joseph’s Christian Women’s Society, to offer her the pieces in advance of the move.
Tollefson said she and other volunteers were impressed by the scale of the donation from the family. She and her husband transported each piece from the George home in Elm Grove, an endeavor that took several carloads to complete.
“We are very grateful for their generosity to St. Joe’s rummage sale, and also so impressed by what they did for the special-needs people that they knew. It was a wonderful thing for them to do. It truly is an amazing collection and a wonderful and unique gift to St. Joseph’s,” she said.
Each piece is still in its original packaging and is in mint condition, she said.
The collection includes pieces from a variety of Dept. 56’s series, including Dickens Village, Christmas in the City, the North Pole, the Original Snow Village, the Newer Snow Village, the New England Village and Heritage Village Accessories.
The pieces will be priced low to sell, said Tollefson, who advised that the rummage sale – now celebrating its 46th year – will also feature a large offering of high-end furniture.
New Dept. 56 Christmas village buildings can retail for $80 to $100 on the company’s website and are considered highly collectible. Official and unofficial collectors’ clubs exist worldwide. Though the Georges could have made a tidy sum from selling the pieces, they preferred to donate them.
“We thought it would be good if someone else enjoyed it,” said Chandy, who along with his wife was a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Elm Grove. The family, he added, is deeply connected to their Catholic faith and have made pilgrimages to Fatima, Medjugorje and Israel.