Former IP employees bring holiday decorations back to life

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

For half a century, the elaborate Christmas decorations at International Paper’s Natchez mill were a mainstay of the holidays in the Miss-Lou.

Cars and trucks would line up to slowly make their way past displays of Currier-and-Ives-type Christmas scenes. And, of course, no holiday display would be complete without a huge cut-out of Santa and his sleigh, complete with a full-motion mechanical Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

&uot;I remember going to see it when I was a child. Then, it stopped (being displayed) a couple of years before the mill closed&uot; in late July of this year, said former IP employee Nancy Eidt.

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Then, after being displayed for a short time at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, the displays were placed in storage in the old county barn behind Cathedral School.

Now, the good news: after a hiatus of sorts, some of the most-loved IP displays have been rehabilitated and will be installed on the hill on D.A. Biglane Drive by early next week.

The even better news, said Isle of Capri General Manager Jose Oakley, is the casino not only plans to bring the display back year after year, but challenges other businesses to add decorations from now on.

&uot;We want to make it bigger and better each year,&uot; said Oakley, whose casino is one of the major sponsors of the revamped display.

The idea for bringing back the display actually started a few months ago when Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Laura Godfrey called the Isle, asking if they would like to help resurrect the Christmas tradition.

&uot;It’s just such a tradition for this community &045; and if there was ever a year to bring it back, this is it,&uot; Godfrey said Friday. &uot;It’ll be a fun drive not only for this community, but for visitors as well.&uot;

Then, about four or five weeks ago, Godfrey called back &uot;to ask if we were still willing to do it, and of course we said yes,&uot; Oakley said.

But once the commitment was made, there was still plenty of work to be done, especially since some of the decorations had deteriorated while in storage, he said.

That’s when Home Hardware &045; which is sponsoring the display along with the Isle, the chamber and Entergy &045; stepped up to donate paint and other materials necessary to help bring to life at least some of the decorations.

The Biglane family also played a large part in the decorations’ revival by donating the use of its land, Oakley pointed out. And the Isle itself will provide 24-hour-a-day security for the display.

From there, former IP employees &045; including Eidt, Charlie Thomas, Jimmy Allen and Dale Cooper, the latter of which now works for the Isle &045; put in hours upon hours of work to rehab and install more than a dozen of the decorations.

As of Friday afternoon, they were still hard at work.

&uot;We’ve got the motor fixed on Rudolph,&uot; Allen said, taking a short break from the work. &uot;He’s not kicking like he used to, though.&uot;

&uot;But hey &045; at least he’s moving,&uot; said Eidt, who was in charge of the IP display during her time at the mill.

Why put so many hours into the project? Eidt and Allen just grinned. For them, it’s the nostalgia of it all, the fact that the display was such a big part of the community for so many years.

&uot;Plus, the kids love it,&uot; Eidt said.

&uot;For many people, it’s a link to their childhood,&uot; said Tony Scudiero, the casino’s senior director of operations. &uot;And they want to make sure their children and grandchildren get a chance to see it, too. Š It’s a tradition &045; and we wanted to get involved.&uot;

For the Isle, whose mission statement mandates that each casino play an active role the community, helping revive the display was a no-brainer, Oakley said.

&uot;We’re a believer in being involved in the community &045; that’s something I’m really pushing as general manager,&uot; Oakley said. &uot;We contribute to anything that’s positive in the community.

&uot;The negative was IP closing,&uot; he said. &uot;The positive is that we still have a strong community.&uot;