- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Houses, some dusted with snow, others filled with families. Barns with sheep, horses and dogs spilling out of their doors. Churches and clock towers. A diner, a chocolate shop and a toy store. A Ferris wheel, wind mill and carousel, all spinning in place. Evergreen trees surround an ice rink, and if you wait long enough, a whistling train makes a full loop around the downtown area.

It’s a Christmas village, and it all fits in Naomi Russell’s living room.

“I like the wagons with the horses,” the 98-year-old said of her collection of ceramic Christmas decorations. “I love horses.”

The multi-tiered display is taller than the Christmas tree in Russell’s Bloomington home and features 115 miniature lighted houses, 300 tiny trees, a toy train with a button-powered whistle and dozens of villagers, each only a few inches tall, wrapped up in coats, scarves and earmuffs.

“I just kept adding to them,” Russell told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1w5MI1e ). “Some years I maybe get two, or three. I get them on sale.”

This is the first year the display has included a train, and the lifelong Bloomington resident has added 15 new houses to her collection. The past few holiday seasons, Russell has had help from her nephew and other family members to set up her Christmas village. Assembly from the top of the village down began in September and was finished Dec. 1, and Russell says the village will be displayed until February.

Five picnic tables, plus several of the boxes in which the houses are packaged, are stacked to show the collection. The boxes and tables are covered with white fabric, and then cotton “snow.” At night, the Christmas village houses and stores light up, but Russell says she prefers to look at her collection during the day.

“It just fascinates you sometimes,” Russell said. “We enjoy it. It does take a while. I was pleased with it.”

Russell started her collection in 1981 or 1982, though she can’t remember the precise year. She has always been a collector, from gathering enough fabric for quilting to open Gaslight Fabrics, a store south of Bloomington, to acquiring 30 toothpick holders.

“When I was a girl, your table wasn’t set unless you had a toothpick holder,” Russell said. “But you can’t get them anymore.”

When Russell was a girl, Bloomington was a very different town. She attended Bloomington High School before there were North and South distinctions. To get downtown, Russell remembers a long trip by horse and buggy, and you hitched your ride to a rail outside the Courthouse.

“It don’t even seem the same now,” Russell said. “They didn’t have it all lit up or anything like that. The stores didn’t stay open. People didn’t have the money.”

Russell was also an engineer at the RCA manufacturing plant for 37 years, the only woman with that job title for a time. Russell says she assembled the first sample television made in Bloomington before the town became known as the “Color Television Capital of the World.”

“It was bulky,” she said with a laugh.

Now, the only building Russell does is overseeing the construction of her Christmas Village. And the village grows - hiding behind a chair in the living room is a ceramic snow-covered log cabin, still in its box.

“Starting for next year,” Russell said with a smile. “Oh, I’ll get more. It grows on you.”

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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