City employees create downtown wonderland

KEVIN HARVISON | Staff photoShannon Webster puts the finishing touches on a Christmas Tree on Choctaw Avenue — one of 12 Christmas trees as well as other decorations and displays put in place by city employees. The employees were working to help give downtown McAlester a holiday look in time for the Thursday night Christmas Parade. 

City of McAlester employees fanned out along Choctaw Avenue on Wednesday, working to put a "surprise" in place for the community.

They quickly worked in teams putting displays and decorations in place to help turn downtown McAlester into a holiday wonderland in time for Thursday night's Downtown Christmas Parade.

Some worked on the project for weeks, sometimes at home, in order to have everything ready for the Dec. 6 event.

Projects included everything from a Charlie Brown and Snoopy ice skating display, to not only a gingerbread house but an entire gingerbread village, complete with a ski lift.

City Manager Pete Stasiak joined the city employees as he hoisted a can of spray paint and helped paint stenciled red and green candy canes along a crosswalk between Second and Third Streets.

One new wooden street sign warned: "Reindeer crossing."

"All of this was made by city employees," Stasiak said, referring to the special handcrafted displays. "We want to give back to the community."

Decorations and displays were put in place along Choctaw Avenue, from Second Street to South Main Street, with the Farmers Market space off South Main also included.

"That's the focal point of everything," Stasiak said. "That's where they're putting the ice rink," he added, referring to the city's ice skating rink which is set to open Dec. 14.

Other employees were placing Christmas trees up along the sidewalks.

"We're putting up 12 Christmas trees," Stasiak said.

The decorative street lamps along Choctaw Avenue will also look different, with individuals lamps made over to shine either a green or red hue. Stasiak suggested driving by at night to get the full effect. He said a city crew came in a couple of nights ago and worked until 5 a.m. in the morning to get the new lighting installed with minimal disturbance to downtown McAlester.

One aspect of the project called for city employees to work with team members from other departments.

"Everybody is working with somebody they've never worked with before," said Stasiak.

Among the workers were city employee Michelle Whiting, of the city's Human Resources Department, along with fellow city employee Terry Daniels. They, and a number of other city employees wore stocking caps lettered with "I love my city."

Whiting and Daniels continued to paint stencils on the crosswalk.

"This is a great idea," Whiting said. Daniels agreed.

"It's doing for the community and it's putting cheer in people's hearts, I hope," Daniels said. Robert Young, with the city's Streets Department, also liked the way things were turning out.

"I think it's going to be a good deal," he said.

Employees from different departments in the city, including the police and fire departments, were pitching in to help Wednesday, said McAlester Community Services Director Mel Priddy.

"Pretty much all departments are represented," Priddy said.

As Whiting and Daniels sprayed red paint over candy cane stencils placed on the crosswalks, Stasiak held his spray can of green paint aloft, anxious to get in on the action.

"Want us to paint a green one in between?" he asked. Given the go-ahead, Stasiak and Young of the Streets Department lay down a stencil and applied the green paint.

Nearby, Carol Janisch, from the McAlester Fire Department, and Sheila Lovett, of the city's police department, worked to fluff out the branches on the Christmas tree at the corner of Second Street and Choctaw Avenue. It took some doing, but by balancing one leg on a downtown bench and the other of a letter, Janisch finally completed the job to her satisfaction.

Across the street, Jana Oliver, waited on a can of green paint so she could paint a Christmas tree stencil on a crosswalk on Choctaw Avenue.

"We've been working hard on this," Oliver said. "We did the white lines across the walk."

In front of the building housing the city's tourism office, City Clerk Cora Middleton and Executive Tourism Coordinator Eddie Gray worked on getting a place set up for a Snoopy and Charlie Brown skating display.

"You'd be surprised at the number of talented people who work at City Hall, in all of the departments," Middleton said.

They included 911 Director Shawn Smith and 911 Coordinator Kim Boylen, who were painting Snoopy and Lucy on a huge planter.

"We're working to stay with the Snoopy and Charlie Brown theme," Smith said.

Those on hand to watch the displays going up included McAlester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Krystal Bess.

"I love it," Bess said as she watched the displays going up. "This will highlight our community."

Local auto dealer Sam Wampler came downtown to watch the project kick-off and also felt impressed.

"I love this stuff," he said.

Down the street, Assistant Police Chief Darrell Miller worked on another display. "It's fascinating," he said as the decorations and displays began to come together.

A short distance down the sidewalk, Sherry Alessi surveyed a gingerbread house and village, made of plywood, she and her family put together. She said her brother, Steve Ford, cut out the plywood pieces, while she and her mother, Joyce Ford, with help from her son, Kyle Alessi, worked to put it all together.

"I spent my Thanksgiving vacation working on this," she said. "It took a week to do the house, alone."

Susan Hooper, administrative assistant to the city manager, worked further down the street. She related how the teams came together.

"It was a random pick," she said.

McAlester Main Street Executive Director Christine Hermsmeyer, who assisted by overseeing the project, watched as the decorations and exhibits were put in place.

Some downtown visitors were impressed early-on with the project, including students Morgan Carr, Reese Ragan and Taylor Boatright, who said they were downtown shooting pictures for a photography class.

"It's so much fun!" Carr said as workers continued to work on their projects.

Ragan also liked what she saw.

"I think it's really cool to see everyone working on it together," Ragan said. "It's real festive."

Boatright felt touched by the whole thing.

"It's going to be beautiful," she said. "I'm going to cry."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com