Chip Minemyer | Wreaths help provide ‘smell of Christmas’

Leona Koleno says her wreaths are “made with love.”

Ellen Hollars called the handmade holiday decorations “very special.” That’s why the Zion woman stopped at Koleno’s stand outside the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte on Saturday, as she does every year. Hollars left with a wreath she would place on her father’s grave in State College, and another for her grandmother’s grave in Kylertown, Clearfield County.

“My father was very special to me,” Hollars said. “I’ve never found anything else as nice as what (Koleno) does. These are very personal. And it’s so nice that it’s right here in Bellefonte.”

Making the holiday decorations is a family tradition for Koleno, of Clarence.

She and her mother, Mary Wozniak, have been producing the seasonal items for 28 years and selling them at the Diamond in Bellefonte for nearly as long.

“My mom always says, ‘God bless those people who buy them. They must be crazy,’ ” Koleno said with a laugh.

Her wreaths can often be seen on the doors and windows of Bellefonte homes during Victorian Christmas.

“Each year, Mom tells me it’s the last,” Koleno said, “but we’re still doing it.”

Tom and Mindy Tierney, of Milesburg, were set up Saturday down the sidewalk from Koleno.

The Tierneys offered wreaths, centerpieces and swags made out of pine branches and holly. They also had small sleighs adorned with the holiday branches and red ribbons.

“It’s a great hobby, relaxing, and we only do it at Christmas,” Mindy Tierney said. “It’s fun, and you get to meet new people. And that fresh pine smell is so good.”

Tom Tierney said the family’s decoration making goes back 30 years, and was inspired by his father-in-law, a florist.

“Mostly, what we make goes to cemeteries,” he said. “Swags go on porches. The little sleighs can go on porches, too.”

It’s not a lucrative hobby.

“You make enough to basically pay for what you put into it,” Tom Tierney said.

While interacting with new customers on Saturday, Koleno recalled some who would not be stopping by this Christmas.

“A lot of people who were my customers have passed away,” she said. “Time changes, you know.”

Koleno said the crafts have taken on even greater meaning for her family in later years.

Her mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 70. That was more than a decade ago. This is her seventh cancer-free Christmas.

“It’s been therapeutic for my mother, especially during her treatment,” Koleno said. “She’s a fighter. She never stops.”

Tom Tierney noted with a hint of sadness that decorating a family member’s final resting place during the holidays seems to be a tradition on the wane.

Still, he gets a sense of satisfaction when someone leaves his stand with a pine centerpiece to brighten the dining room or a wreath headed for a local grave site.

“It means something,” he said. “You’re here so somebody has something they can give to their loved ones, whether they’re alive or not.”

Koleno said she loves to work with lycopodium, also known as creeping cedar, a pine-like plant that grows along the ground.

Her customers like the look, and often say it evokes holiday memories.

“I meet a lot of people who talk about how, when they were kids, they would go with their parents and bring back pine and wrap their banisters for Christmas,” Koleno said.

Tierney said people tell him the real-pine decorations work on a level beyond the visual appeal.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s the smell of Christmas.”