ARLINGTON — What started out as a simple tradition for the Vanney family on Olympic Avenue has become a spectacle that never fails to draw crowds during the holiday seasons, and if you swing by 425 S. Olympic Ave. in Arlington before the New Year, you just might catch it.
Jerry Vanney lives in the home once occupied by his mother, Norine, and his late father, Don. Sr., who passed away in 1997 on New Year’s Day. Although Jerry is a developmentally disabled adult, who’s currently being looked after by his brother, Don Jr., and sister-in-law, Kathy, everyone in the family agrees that Jerry is an uncontested whiz-kid at filling the front yard of his house with inflatable Christmas and Halloween decorations. Don. Jr. attributes this skill to Jerry’s sessions spent putting up such decorations with Don Sr. in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
“He knows where everything is supposed to go,” Don Jr. said of Jerry’s skill at placing the inflatable Santas and snowmen and other decorations, along with their attendant power and anchor lines. “He takes pictures of everything when it’s in place, and then uses those as his guides to put everything together how it was the year before. It probably took about 33 man-hours to get it all ready this year. There were five of us working on it, and Jerry told us exactly how to place everything. He’s a real taskmaster,” Don Jr. laughed.
Don Jr. noted that Jerry gets just as enthusiastic about decorating the front yard of the house with seasonally themed inflatables for Halloween each year.
“Every year, Jerry has added something new to the display, and replaced as many of the worn-out decorations as he can,” Don Jr. said. “I still can’t believe there are this many inflatable decorations.”
As befitting a longstanding family tradition, Jerry is a strict traditionalist about when he’s willing to put up the Christmas decorations.
“It’s always the day after Thanksgiving,” Don Jr. said. “He’ll say, every year, ‘We’ve got to wait until after the turkey.’”
And while old St. Nick has made his visits, dropped off his presents and gone until next year, Jerry will leave his Christmas decorations out until after the start of the New Year.
“After New Year’s, he waits until the first nice day to bundle them all up,” Kathy said. “He’s gotten more organized, and is better at putting them away neatly,” she laughed.
In the meantime, the Vanneys are happy to greet the “non-stop traffic” that Don. Jr. has reported seeing on their street.
“What’s neat is that Jerry has been doing this long enough now that there are kids who grew up coming to see it, who are now bringing their own kids to see it,” Don. Jr. said. “Every time I swing by the house, there’s somebody in front of it, either slowing down or completely stopped. One guy was showing it to his son, and he had California plates on his car.”
“I love it when people look at it,” Jerry said. “I want them to stop by and enjoy my work.”