Roanoke County students update Elks Home holiday display in Bedford

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Driving through the old National Elks Home in Bedford is a Christmas tradition for many families in our area. Although the name has changed, the tradition has stayed the same. Under new ownership, the home is now called English Meadows Elks Home Campus.

For many students at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology, it's a Christmas display they've been visiting with their families for years. Now, students in the building trades program are getting to help renovate and update the more than 60-year-old display.

Since 1953, families from all across southwest and central Virginia have been visiting the Elks Home to drive through a small portion of the 200-acre facility, checking out the mechanical holiday displays and lights. But over the years, those displays have worn out. The plywood designs have started to decay and the mechanical features just don't work like they used to.

That's where the Roanoke County students come into play-- working to repair some of the pieces and completely rebuilding others.

"To me, it's passing a tradition on," says Thomas Shelton, the building trades teacher. "We're working with the Elks Home to redo the figurines. A lot of the faces on these figurines are from past residents, so we're repainting them so the residents keep living on."

Students in the program say recreating those faces to match the past residents has been one of the most difficult but most rewarding parts of the program.

"The hardest part was redrawing everything and the detail we had to recreate," says Ethan Wallace, a senior in the program. "We wanted everything to match the old memories. That was really complicated, but it was so so fun working with all of the guys and cutting stuff out and seeing our finished product."

It's a project that is expected to span several years. It all started last year, when the students rebuilt the huge reindeer display that's set up our front. This year, they've been hard at work recreating even more pieces-- including the singing choir member and the little girl playing piano.

It's a project that's taken several months, as these students make memories that will last a lifetime.

"It's wonderful, because each student that works on them signs them," says Shelton. "They can take their kids up there when they grow up and say, 'This is one I designed. I painted this one. I built this one.' It's just carrying on tradition and that's what we're all about is tradition."

One of the biggest pieces, Santa's sleigh, is all new this year as well. Senior Noah LaPlante was in charge of totally redesigning the piece to make it bigger and more durable.

"We looked online at different sleds and picked and chose what we liked from each one. We mixed and matched to design that one," he says. "We sat up there quite a bit and jumped up and down on it to make sure it was sturdy and would hold up. The original sled lasted about sixty years, so we wanted to make sure this would last the same amount of time."

Throughout the week those newly finished displays will be set up in front of the English Meadows Elks Home Campus. The lights will officially turn on for the first time this holiday season on Friday, December 2.

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