Homes for the holidays: Highlands residents open their doors for preschool fundraiser

If you’ve ever wanted to go beyond looking at outdoor light displays to see how others live — and decorate — indoors, then step out of the cold and into the decked halls of eight State College homes this weekend during the Holiday Home Tour.

Highlands neighborhood residents will have their trees trimmed when they open their doors Dec. 15 to benefit Park Forest Day Nursery, a tuition-free preschool for low-income families in Centre County.

Although Gloria Horst Rosenberger retired in May as the nursery’s director, the preschool is still close to her heart, and she hopes this festive peek into her neighbors’ homes will boost the school’s budget.

The preschool relies solely on donations from the community and funding from the Centre County United Way, so having a balanced budget is a “continuous concern,” Horst Rosenberger said.

But, more importantly, she said, “We need to raise awareness in this town that there are families that can’t afford to send their kids to preschool.”

The fundraising idea came to her while visiting her sister a few years ago in the Lancaster area, where she learned of a homes tour in New Holland. She called the organizer for guidance, then got busy calling her Highlands neighbors.

Now, two years later, she’s ready to open her own front door, too.

Horst Rosenberger and her husband, Jim Rosenberger, have decorated their 1931 stone home, at 464 E. Foster Ave., with art and collectibles from their travels abroad.

While living in Zimbabwe for two years, Horst Rosenberger said, she bought wood carvings from unemployed artisans who sold their work on the streets and in parking lots. She said the collection that now fills a small study in their home “just sort of happened” as much out of compassion for the artists as her appreciation for the art.

And, while on sabbatical in Leeds, England, what began as the purchase of a few souvenirs turned into a Father Christmas collection that continues to grow. Father Christmas figurines set a winter scene in the dining room; cheerful snowmen decorate a front room; and the living room fireplace is draped in garland with Christmas-colored accents and, of course, traditional stockings.

Decking the halls at Corrigan House, 446 E. Hamilton Ave., is a painstaking endeavor that takes homeowners Mitch Ballas and Randy Ammerman at least two weeks to complete.

Ballas said stringing the Christmas tree with lights takes eight to 10 hours because he individually wraps the branches of the 8-foot tree. With its candle lights and Christopher Radko ornaments, the tree is the centerpiece of the living room.

His attention to detail is evident throughout the house, which he and Ammerman have been renovating since they bought it in 1995.

The house was built in 1937, and its character and style have been maintained — from the refinished hardwood floors to the elegant staircase and the original windows that Ballas restored by removing them one by one and burning off decades of layered paint with a blowtorch.

The kitchen has been completely remodeled but with traditional elements, such as hexagonal floor tiles, a tin ceiling, English wall tiles and stained glass.

In remodeling, “We wanted something warm and welcoming but not a museum; something that would stand the test of time,” Ballas said.

They achieved that with rich wood tones, custom cabinetry and a counter built from pew ends they found at a salvage store in Philadelphia and a thick, heavy door from a Baptist church in Milesburg, Ammerman’s hometown.

Wreaths and greenery, lights and candles, stockings and simple little touches inside and out make it feel like Christmas at Corrigan House.

But just a few blocks away, at 256 E. Irvin Ave., it’s beginning to look a lot like ... Hanukkah. Yes, the Festival of Lights is over, but that didn’t stop Helen Dempsey from putting out a call to friends interested in lending their menorahs to the home-tour cause.

Menorahs of all shapes, sizes and colors will grace the living and dining rooms for a different kind of seasonal setting.

Dempsey’s home, built in 1939, looks like a quaint cottage from the street, but beyond the front door is a bright, open space with hardwood floors and windows to a wooded backyard, deck and — in warmer weather — a stepped butterfly garden.

This is not a tour of only homes. Faith United Church of Christ, 300 E. College Ave., invites visitors to warm up, relax and enjoy the Christmas decorations in the sanctuary — and for more pragmatic purposes: restrooms and refreshments. And, at 2 p.m., the Celebration Ringers will give a hand bell performance at the church.

Over the years, small fundraisers have always been a part of the mix for the nonprofit Park Forest Day Nursery, said board member and fundraising director Cari Gustafson, who organized the event. But the home tour is the first attempt at something on a grander scale, and “100 percent of proceeds will go to the preschool budget,” Horst Rosenberger said.

Her hope, she said, is that if it’s successful, the tour will become a holiday-season tradition in other neighborhoods, such as Holmes-Foster, Lemont or in Park Forest.

“I think it would be lovely to continue this,” she said.

Tour stops

• Faith United Church of Christ, 300 E. College Ave.

• Fleagle residence, 449 E. Foster Ave.

• Rosenberger residence, 464 E. Foster Ave.

• Koenig-Schreier residence, 502 E. Foster Ave.

• Sebastianelli residence, 413 E. Prospect Ave.

• Corrigan House (Ballas-Ammerman residence), 446 E. Hamilton Ave.

• Goreham-Matson residence, 300 E. Irvin Ave.

• Wilkerson residence, 261 E. Irvin Ave.

• Dempsey residence, 256 E. Irvin Ave.