Forty years ago, members of the Laureate Chi chapter of Beta Sigma Phi decided a holiday home tour would be a good fund-raiser and a fun event for the community. An ambitious group, they secured the cooperation of six homeowners, Tom and Judy Brungardt, Russ and Vicki Fincham, Dr. C.B. and Louise Kempton, Ronald and Winona Lesh, Wayne and Flo Parsons, and Wayne and Earlena Wheeler, who agreed to show their homes.
What was true in 1973 in true in 2013: the tour is considered by many to be an essential part of the holiday season, and funds allow the sorority to support a variety of local causes, such as the humane society, teen center, food bank, a paper pantry, Pratt Regional Medical Center Tree of Lights, Pratt Health Foundation, holiday lights at Lemon and Sixth Street parks, Glenda's Kids and local families with special needs.
What has changed over the years is the number of homes on the tour.
"I can't believe we were that ambitious," said Liz Henry, a tour coordinator.
Three families will show their homes all decked out for the holiday on Dec. 8.
There are Santas everywhere at Steve and Jody Little's home in the River Road Country Estates development. Large Santas greet visitors at the door. Medium-sized ones decorate the living room, smaller ones line the top of the cabinets in the kitchen. There are musical Santas in the family room that the grandchildren can touch and play with. This year, in honor of the tour, there will even be Santas in the bathrooms and bedrooms.
"We're Santa junkies," Steve Little admits.
The collection began with a Santa wearing KU crimson and blue that Jody gave to Steve about 15 years ago. He decided they should begin a collection, and every year they shop together for a special addition or two.
By now, the Santas have their own room in the basement, where they are stored when they're not on display.
The Littles built their home in 2006, and chose an open plan and traditional furnishings.
Eric and Kathy Buntemeyer have one of the first homes built in the development, in about 1989, by Jack and Donna Eastes. Certainly, they have one of the best views, overlooking a small pond. The view is one of the factors that sold them on the house.
They also like the large three-acre lots, the peaceful surroundings and great neighbors.
"We can sit outside and have coffee, watch the birds and see the deer," Kathy Buntemeyer said.
On a recent evening they estimate there were 17 deer laying in their front yard. The deer are comfortable in their surroundings, and don't startle when someone starts a car.
The Buntemeyers bought the house in 2011 and added a bar adjacent to the kitchen for family meals and a place where friends can gather to watch KU basketball. A swimming pool was installed last summer.
Furnishings are mostly contemporary, but include pieces from Eric Buntemeyer's family, including a lawyer's stacking bookcase with leaded glass doors and a rolltop desk.
Christmas decorations are traditional and include six trees on the three-level home.
Providing a contrast to the newer homes is a 1907 model, built by an early day Pratt furniture dealer named Repp, and owned by John and Patti Cromer. When they sold the farm four years ago and were looking for permanent housing in Pratt, John Cromer told his wife she needed to see the house at First and Ninnescah. She had seen it and didn't think she was interested.
One look at the original woodwork, however, changed her mind. She claims to know nothing about Victorian decorating, but an observer would say otherwise.
The Cromers repainted the interior, softening the colors and coordinating new wallpapers. New crown moldings, prepared by John and installed by John Wolf of Sand Creek Builders in Sawyer, look like they've always been there.
The exterior received a new color scheme of creamy vanilla, chocolate brown and brick red. Cromer and Jorge Ortega, who worked at the farm for 18 years and considers the Cromers to be an adopted family, removed all the siding clapboards, sanded away paint accumulated over the years, and reinstalled them. Putting three colors on the porch spindles took two months.
"He can do anything and whatever he tackles he does a perfectionist's job," Patti Cromer said of Ortega.
Cromer's latest project, as yet unfinished, is landscaping the lawn.
Christmas decorations complement the Victorian decor and feature Patti's collection of Victorian dolls and angels. Friend Belinda Gimpel assembled a tree with half its branches to hold china teapots, cups and saucers. Many of the decorations came from thrift shops and garage sales.