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Farmers State Bank’s giant Advent calendar has history near, far

A giant Advent calendar that now towers over Central Park Plaza in downtown Jacksonville has roots both near and far.

The idea began taking shape this summer, when retired Routt Catholic and Jacksonville high schools English teacher Pat Kennedy was visiting the downtown square.

“I’ve gone around the square thousands of times in my life, since I grew up here,” Kennedy said. “But (in June), I was on Central Park Plaza and looked up and thought, ‘How many windows are we talking here?’”

The answer to that question was 24 windows on the east side of The Farmers State Bank and Trust Co. building at 200 W. State St.

“I thought it would be wonderful if the bank would let us put up an Advent calendar,” Kennedy said.

He texted Jo Ann Nelson, a retired German teacher at Jacksonville High School. 

Nelson didn’t initially understand her friend’s text with a photo of the bank building, asking her what she saw, she said.

“He said, ‘Look closer — 24 windows; it could be an Advent calendar,’” Nelson said.

“She texted back, ‘Wow,’” Kennedy said.

It was significant to the pair because they were familiar with a similar endeavor in Uelzen, Lower Saxony, Germany, where the community’s historic town hall’s windows are decorated each year like an Advent calendar. Both had traveled to Uelzen as part of JHS’s German-American Partnership Program — or GAPP — during which students from Uelzen visit JHS for a few weeks in the fall and JHS students visit Uelzen in the spring.

Kennedy then texted graphic designer Steve Varble, who was part of GAPP’s first trip to Uelzen. Varble also liked the idea.

After the three of them decided the idea was doable, they contacted Elizabeth Becker, one of the bank’s executive vice presidents and also a former GAPP student, in August.

“Steve and I had several meetings, talking about different ways to do it,” Becker said. “We’ve seen this kind of idea but weren’t exactly sure how to make it work with our kind of windows.”

The bank building, which dates to 1913, recently underwent window replacement.

“When we picked out window replacements, this wasn’t even an idea,” Becker said. “I was just trying to get it back” to something historically appropriate for the building.

Then it became a matter of getting the project pulled together in time for the Christmas parade on the evening after Thanksgiving.

“It was scary when they brought the idea to us because the windows were not developed for this project, “ Becker said. “When you’re dealing with 7-foot windows, you’re wondering” how to make it work.

Varble ended up opting for foam board — lightweight panels that will be easily flipped each day to reveal a new image.

“You know how when you open a chocolate Advent calendar, there’s a little treat?” Becker said. “That was the idea behind the images we’ll reveal each day. The view is so distant, we needed to make them very holiday-ish but very simple so you could see it.”

While Becker has seen the images on paper and has talked them over with her mother, bank board President Joy French Becker; and her sister, fellow bank executive vice president and GAPP participant Kristan Becker Hoffman, she’s as eager as anyone to see them revealed, she said.

“We’ve pulled down all the shades so there’s anticipation for the employees, as well, so they can be surprised,” Elizabeth Becker said.

While the first day of the calendar has yet to be unveiled, it already has been a gift, its creators said.

Elizabeth Becker has been struck by the community’s reaction before even the first calendar spot has been revealed.

“It’s really been exciting to see it come together,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed to see the positive response. On Facebook and at the Christmas parade on Friday with my children, it was neat to hear the comments.”
Nelson also has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback the project has received.

“I’m 71 years old,” Nelson said. “I’m not that much into social media. But everyone’s just wowing about [a Facebook post she made about it]. I got a Facebook post from one of the German teachers in Germany, saying ‘It’s just like our town hall; we’ll have to get this in our Uelzen newspaper’.”

As of Monday morning, Nelson’s post has 827 shares and likes…

Read More: Farmers State Bank’s giant Advent calendar has history near, far

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