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Dump decorations bring Christmas cheer

In the town of Brule, Christmas spirit pops up in some unexpected places. Those who travel down Dump Road are treated to a festive display as they drop off their trash and recyclables. Holiday music chimes from the small shelter, which has been t...

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Rick Larsen, the attendant at the town of Brule waste disposal and recycling site, stands beside the shelter at the site Wednesday. The area is brimming with holiday spirit thanks to cast-off Christmas decorations Larsen has collected and recycled for a seasonal display. (Maria Lockwood)

In the town of Brule, Christmas spirit pops up in some unexpected places. Those who travel down Dump Road are treated to a festive display as they drop off their trash and recyclables. Holiday music chimes from the small shelter, which has been transformed with bows, wreaths and candy canes. Nearby sits a grinning Santa, toy soldiers, a snowman and more.

"It is really neat and makes everyone smile," said Kay Johnson of Brule, county board supervisor for the 16th District.

Town clerk Diane Nelson stopped by recently to drop off trash.

"With the Christmas music playing and the decorations in abundance, it put a smile on my face," she said. "I left there in good spirits, singing a Christmas song to myself."

The display dresses it up a little, said Sheila Yrjanainen-Mackie of Brule: "He just tries to make it jolly, I guess."

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The man behind the holiday magic is attendant Rick Larsen. For 23 years, he’s been keeping Brule clean. The display began about 20 years ago.

"I just love it," Larsen said. "I’m a kid at heart."

Each of the items decorating the dump has been recycled.

"It’s what people throw away," Larsen said. The newest member of the menagerie is a bulb-studded wire snowman flanked by street lights. Larsen has never plugged it in. The dump is only open during daylight hours, Larsen said, so it doesn’t matter if the wiring works or not.

Instead of filling dumpsters, these festive items get a second chance to entertain.

"I appreciate the idea he is promoting: to reuse and recycle," Nelson said. "We have become such a disposable society, throwing perfectly usable things away on a regular basis."

On several occasions, Larsen has set aside items she’s brought to the dump instead of putting them in a dumpster.

"He’ll say, ‘You leave that there, I know someone will want it,’" Nelson said.

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Even when thieves stole Larsen’s decorations 12 years ago, he didn’t throw in the towel. He started rebuilding his stock, one cast-away at a time.

Larsen takes his job seriously, said town chairman Fred Stoll. Like a pool player, the attendant eyed the dumpster Wednesday before tossing bags of garbage into precise spots, packing them in along the back wall.

"I’m a perfect shot," Larsen said.

He prides himself on packing more tonnage in the dumpster than any other town or village in Douglas County.

"I’ve been told by the board members I’m tops," Larsen said.

He caters to elderly residents, Mackie said. They don’t even have to get out of their cars; Larsen does it all.

Through his recycling diligence, the attendant has reduced the number of times the town’s dumpster must be emptied by more than 30 percent, Nelson said.

"This has resulted in a significant savings to the town residents in addition to reducing the town of Brule’s footprint at the local landfill," she said. "Everyone needs to do their part to reduce, reuse, recycle these days. Rick has made it easier for us to do that."

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In addition to the Christmas decorations, Larsen displays his Wisconsin pride with Packers and Badgers paraphernalia. Stoll remembers bringing his young son along on trips to the dump years ago. Larsen had a stuffed monkey, no doubt a cast-off, swinging from a tree.

"My son’s name is Earl, and as it happens, that was the monkey’s name too," Stoll said. "That always made trips to the dump fun."

Larsen, who lives in Superior, also works as a groundskeeper for the town during the summer. This is the season when residents take the time to let him know they appreciate everything he does.

"I get Christmas gifts from everyone," he said, from cookies to cards.

In return, his display gives them a dose of holiday cheer.

Related Topics: SUPERIORDOUGLAS COUNTY
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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