City employees fanned out along Choctaw Avenue early Tuesday, doing their best to transform Downtown McAlester into a winter wonderland on time for the Thursday night Christmas parade.

Individuals from different departments banded together to create displays and other handiwork to celebrate the Christmas season. At the corner of Second Street and Choctaw Avenue, a city team added the finishing touches on a ferris wheel they worked together to create as their contribution to the holiday displays.

Tuchina Million leaned in low to add some final touches of green paint to the base, while others strung an electrical extension cord to a nearby pole.

"It'll look good in a minute when we get it going," said Assistant Police Chief Darrell Miller.

Other team members included Susan Hooper, who is the executive assistant to the city manager; McAlester Regional Airport Manager Butch Mellor and Rick Whittington. They stood by as Miller plugged in an electrical cord to see if they ferris wheel would work. It did — except it was going backwards.

Miller made a quick change to the electrical hookup, resulting in success with the ferris wheel now going the correct way.

On the other side of Choctaw Avenue, in front of the building housing the McAlester Tourism office, another team set up a "head in the picture" display, featuring a painting of the pink rabbit suit the character Ralphie had to wear in the movie "The Christmas Story." Those sticking their head in the hole cut into the wood can have their photo taken. A facsimile of the leg lamp that's key part of the movie stands nearby, both created by city Tourism Coordinator Eddie Gray.

"I couldn't find one, so I traced a picture," Gray said of the design he used for the rabbit suit project. Team members who helped included McAlester Main Street Director Alyssa Latty, along with Fire Marshal Bobby Tucker, Cody Smith, Shelli Colbert and Clifford Vanderpool.

Gray said the team made the display so the adults walking the city streets could have some fun, too.

"A lot of this is geared toward kids," he said. Referring to grownups Gray said "We all have the memories of this movie.

"It's going to be cool," he said.

For those who want to take pictures and then post their cool photos on social media, Gray said the city has set up a hash tag site: #smalltownbigchristmas.

Back on the south side of the street, Michelle Marston, Tammy Joslin, Linda Callaway and Rick Westbrook from the Pittsburg County Health Department were working on decorating a Christmas tree entirely with rubber ducks.

"There's a lot of creativity out here today," Marston said. "We're glad to help."

Other groups helping with the downtown project included the McAlester Area Chamber of Commerce, Life Church, McAlester Regional Health Center, the First Family Credit Union and Infrastructure Solutions.

Dale Burke and Robert Vaughan, of Infrastructure Solutions, were assisting city employees Tuesday, but Vaughan said they may work on an engineering concept as a project for next year.

On yet another display, city Human Resources director Sheila Maldonaldo and Det. Max Clark worked on a display of a wooden train, including a coal car for those who've been naughty.

City Public Works Director Dave Horinek said the team also made a wooden helicopter, complete with a whirling blade. Team members Andrea Slade and Dave Houvull also helped.

Up the street, city Community Development Coordinator Jayme Clifton added spray paint to a couple of life-sized wooden toy soldiers. The soldiers were made by a team led by Clifton and including David Weeks, Jimmy Bierman, David Laughlin, Jeremy Lewis and Sherri Swift.

City Parks Dept. Head Gardener Robbie Patton and Land Maintenance Supervisor Sherman Miller were out and about, with the displays and decorations spreading from the Farmers Market, then from South Main Street to Fifth Street along Choctaw Avenue.

McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak said the project is something city employees looked forward to doing.

"It's all about giving back to the community," Stasiak said.

He gazed around at the myriad of projects underway by different city teams, obviously impressed by when he saw.

"It's the creativity of everything," Stasiak said. "They were told 'It's Christmas. Do what you want.'"

He said the teams did a lot of making do with what's available.

"This is scraps and things left over from the city," Stasiak said of the materials used for the city displays.

"We hope people will come to the downtown area and take a few minutes to walk around," said Stasiak. "This is the employees' gift to the city."

Meanwhile, teams were succeeding in their mission, based on the reactions of others.

"I pulled up here at 8:30 this morning and said 'Oh my goodness. It's a winter wonderland,"' said Sheri Magdalena, of the Crowded Closet inside the Galleria at 30 E. Choctaw Ave.

She watched some of the ongoing work through the storefront windows.

"I'm watching them do this winter wonderland. It's starting to look like a Hallmark Channel Christmas," Magdalena said.

"It's very nice that they do this for the community."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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