When the White House released footage of this year’s Christmas decorations, Patty Peterson could see her handiwork. The village of Lake Nebagamon woman was one of the dozens of volunteer decorators who filled the halls of the White House with holiday cheer this year.

She spent one day painting bases and covering trees in gold leaf, and two days wrapping lights around the branches of the official White House tree in the Blue Room.

“We wrapped over 7,000 lights on that one tree,” said Peterson, president of the Lake Nebagamon Garden Club.

As they were doing so, she almost had to pinch herself.

“We were sitting in the White House and they’re playing Christmas music and you look up and there is President Kennedy’s official portrait right there,” Peterson said. “It is so moving it’s unbelievable. To think of all the history and all of the people who have walked through that White House.”

The Lake Nebagamon woman was part of the first wave of about 80 decorators who spent Nov. 25-27 in the Capitol. They did the unboxing and heavy lifting, what Peterson called the “grunt work.” The workspace was not picture perfect.

“The White House was a mess,” Peterson said. “They push all the furniture aside; they roll up the rugs; they cover some of the floor with plywood. I mean, it was a disaster when we were in there working.”

Patty Peterson of Lake Nebagamon poses for a picture by a fireplace in the White House. Although no cameras of phone use was allowed while they were decorating the White House Thanksgivig week, a staff photographer took a picture of each of the volunteers in their official apron. (Photo courtesy of Patty Peterson)
Patty Peterson of Lake Nebagamon poses for a picture by a fireplace in the White House. Although no cameras of phone use was allowed while they were decorating the White House Thanksgivig week, a staff photographer took a picture of each of the volunteers in their official apron. (Photo courtesy of Patty Peterson)

During their eight-hour days, the volunteers were not allowed to use cellphones or take pictures. That’s OK, Peterson said, because they were too busy to chat on the phone.

The volunteers came from all walks of life and all areas of the nation. They were provided with meals and transportation, but had to pay for the flight and hotel themselves. There were zero politics involved, Peterson said.

“We were there to accomplish the Christmas decorations for the White House,” she said. “We were doing it because we love the fact that that White House is so beautiful and it’s there for people to see.”

A second wave of decorators followed after Thanksgiving to add ornaments and tidy up. Peterson returned to Washington, D.C., for a Dec. 2 reception to see the decorations unveiled.

“We were in awe,” she said.

This is the first year Peterson applied to be a volunteer decorator, although it’s something she’s considered for years. Although retired, she stays active as a master gardener. Master gardeners must spend at least 24 hours of volunteer work a year beautifying their community.

Peterson touted that experience, both with the Lake Nebagamon club and the Lake Superior Master Gardeners Association, on her resume for the White House. She stressed her work planting village window boxes, cleaning flower beds and decorating Fairlawn Mansion as well as her passion for the holidays.

“I love Christmas,” the Lake Nebagamon woman said. “Christmas is my favorite time of year.”

Peterson said it was an honor to be chosen and the experience was amazing.

She found time after work to take in some of the Washington, D.C., sights, but the long days were exhausting. Peterson said she fell asleep in the plane with pitch (plant resin)-covered hands before her return flight left the runway.

She was ready to tackle a new project Thursday, Dec. 5.

“Now I have to decorate my own Christmas tree,” Peterson said.

Patty Peterson of Lake Nebagamon stands in front of one of the trees she covered with gold leaf in the White House on Dec. 2. A master gardener, she was one of the first wave of about 80 volunteers who helped decorate the White House for the holidays Thanksgiving week. (Photo courtesy of Patty Peterson)
Patty Peterson of Lake Nebagamon stands in front of one of the trees she covered with gold leaf in the White House on Dec. 2. A master gardener, she was one of the first wave of about 80 volunteers who helped decorate the White House for the holidays Thanksgiving week. (Photo courtesy of Patty Peterson)