by Marilyn Gore
The snow village in Sumners Hall is a gift of the Fendley family. Terry Fendley, who grew up at St. John the Divine, began collecting Department 56 "Original Snow Village" pieces in the late '80s. Every year, Terry would wait for Department 56 to announce the pieces that would be retired that year and purchase the ones he liked best. "We always wanted more of the retired pieces than we should probably buy," Terry recalls, "but some years we might get 4 or 5 new buildings. It adds up fast and you quickly find you need a lot of room at home for the additional village pieces. The village got fairly large, but I loved every minute of it and my two girls loved it as well."
In March 1999, Terry's 16-year-old daughter Ashley died in a skiing accident. The family moved and no longer had space to set up the village, but Terry still wanted his children Brooke and Austin to be able to enjoy it. "I very much wanted it to be near Ashley, whose ashes are in the St. John the Divine columbarium," Terry said. "I thought that it would be great if the church would let me set up the village in Sumners Hall by a window, so I could keep the whole set together, Brooke and Austin could help set it up and enjoy it, and it would be near Ashley. I went to Larry and explained what I wanted to do and why. I promised it would not look too cheesy and that I thought the kids of St. John’s would enjoy it. I do not remember even showing Larry pictures. He just trusted and believed in me and said, 'Sure.'"
In the early years, Terry and his father set up the village. "My mother, Mary Ann, picked up where my father left off after he passed," Terry remembers, "being there with me for hours on end. My wife, Susan, has a good design eye and helps me with making sure the set up looks good. My son, Austin, told me that when he has a son he will be setting it up with him, so it sounds like as long as the church allows us, we will continue to set it up for the enjoyment of those at St. John’s."
After twenty years, the Fendleys' snow villiage has become a milestone in St. John’s Advent preparations. Each Thanksgiving, Terry and his wife, who now live in Oklahoma, take a few days’ vacation and, with three generations of Fendleys, unload all the boxes and bags from his mom’s attic; travel to Houston; bring all their materials into Sumners Hall; assemble tables; check lights; lay out the train, roads, snow, and stream; place the buildings; and populate the scene with vendors, kids, shoppers, street lights, and trees. Once the windows and garland go up and the timers are set, it is ready for the kids, and Terry and Susan head back to Oklahoma. Mary Ann makes weekly visits to wipe nose prints from the previous Sunday’s viewing audience. Shortly after Epiphany, Tom and Susan will return to dismantle the whole setup and return it to the attic in Oklahoma.
"My father really loved putting the snow village together until he passed away in 2010," Terry says. "Today we continue to set it up in the memory of Ashley; my father, Tarrant; and of all those from St. John’s that have passed. I pray that the joy that I hope this Christmas Village brings will make all the angels of St. John’s smile."
Thanks to parishioner Don Callender, a number of tiny flamingos have taken up residence in our Snow Village! Be sure to look for them when you visit. Note — they can be cagey, so look very closely!!
2450 River Oaks Boulevard, Houston, TX 77019 Map