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Nativities' memories brighten Museum Manger

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nativities from area churches such as this one from Le Mars Bible Church are displayed in the Museum Manger at the Plymouth County Historical Museum, in Le Mars. This is the third year for the Museum Manger, which features more than 100 nativities on loan or donated to the display.
Nativities set against backdrops of brightly lit Christmas trees beckon visitors to the "Museum Manger" at the Plymouth County Historical Museum.

From modern to antique, wooden to hand-painted, the nativities are on display in the fourth floor Study Hall at the museum, in Le Mars, through Jan. 9.

This the third year for the display, which was started by long-time museum volunteers, Ron and Delores Burkard, using their own collection of nativities and inviting others to share theirs.

Judy Miller, of Le Mars, loaned this nativity, which was hand-painted for her parents in the 1970s, to the Museum Manger display at the county museum. Miller said she finds the nativity's three white camels "unique" among nativities.
Ron died in March 2011 but his family is carrying on the tradition.

Some of the nativities on display in the Museum Manger are on loan while others have been donated to the museum.

They come from families and individuals in remembrance of loved ones.

Some represent churches throughout the county such as Christ Lutheran Church, rural Le Mars.

Sharon Popken, secretary at the church, is sharing a nativity she purchased about 37 years ago.

"It's a special one because it was my very first nativity," Popken said.

Since then she's had many more nativities, but that one holds memories, some poignant, others amusing.

"My kids would help me put it up when they were young," Popken said. "They had fun doing that."

She doesn't display the loaned nativity in her own home these days because the Home Interior pieces are breakable, and she has grandchildren, Popken said.

"My son broke one of the wiseman's heads (as a child)," she said. "I glued it back on. Unless I point it out, people don't notice it."

Judy Bowman, museum administrator, said more churches have come forward this year to display nativities.

For example, Rejoice! Community Church, in Le Mars, joined the line-up this year.

"Our goal in coming years is to have every church in the county represented," Bowman said.

Like Popken, many the nativities in the Museum Manger hold special memories such as the one on loan from Judy Miller, of Le Mars.

The nativity was hand-painted for her parents, Kenneth and Evelyn Conway, in the 1970s.

"A friend of my mother's painted it for them," Miller said. "She had it out every year."

The ceramic figures, including three camels, are decorated with colorful, pearlized paint and fill a section of table on their own in the Museum Manger display.

"I think it's unusual because it does have three camels," Miller said. "They're white with pretty decorations on them. You hardly ever see white camels."

Miller said she has already visited the Museum Manger display this year, which she saw for the first time in 2011.

"This year it's even prettier," she said. "I thought it was beautiful."

Those strolling through the Museum Manger will also see nativities from other countries such as Guatemala, Vietnam, China and the Dominican Republic.

The nativities range in size from miniature to large such as the carved statues of the Holy family, from Le Mars Bible Church.

For Miller, the variety of nativities in the Museum Manger is compelling.

"It's just fascinating to see how many different kinds there are," she said. "There's certainly no two alike."

Museum Manger hours

1-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays

5-8 p.m. Wednesdays, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19

5-7 p.m. Jan. 9

Group after-hour tours by request: call the museum at 546-7002 for a visit

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