A Christmas tradition has come back this season to Roseburg’s Hucrest neighborhood.
After a three-year hiatus, Jim Zurcher has been setting out the handmade animated figures that enchanted passers-by for 23 years, beginning in 1987.
He attributed his decision to resurrect the renowned exhibit to “the 7 million people bugging me, phoning me, stopping me at the store.”
So on Dec. 15, Zurcher, who celebrated his 85th birthday Monday, dusted off some of the human-sized characters and rolled them out to his driveway.
In front of the house, at 1825 N.W. Oerding Ave., Big Bird turns his head, a snowman tips his hat and a mouse runs around Hickory Dickory Dock. Humpty Dumpty and Spongebob SquarePants are also present, and Santa Claus is seen upside down in the chimney.
Zurcher last put up the display in 2009. Bum knees made it difficult for the retiree to set up and take down the decorations.
He also lost his wife, Pat, of nearly 62 years, to lung cancer in 2008.
“I missed her, and I didn’t have the interest,” he said. “It was a favorite thing to do with her. We would watch the kids and the cars come by. They were just so happy to see it.”
Using a cane to steady himself, Zurcher said time heals and that he’s decided to not let his knees get in the way.
It was Pat who encouraged her husband to do the display in the first place, Zurcher said with a smile.
“I have this nice shop out back. And my wife said, ‘Jim, you’re clever. Why don’t you make something?’”
That first year Zurcher made a snowman out of fiberglass. He added to the display over the Christmases, making everything from recycled material. Big Bird’s long yellow legs were formed out of pipes from a cooling system.
The World War II veteran drew from his experience in the woodworking industry and built characters from wood.
Normally, Zurcher began hauling out the large figures the first week of December. This year he had a late start and wasn’t able to put out all 12 figures that he’s made over the years.
“It was a last-minute thing that I decided to do, so I put out the five that I thought would be the best,” he said.
In the past, Zurcher’s decked-out front yard has drawn large crowds, including church groups from Eugene and buses from the senior citizen centers.
“Sometimes it gets so busy here, you can’t get down the street,” he said, grinning. “Us old people are all kids at heart, too.”
Neighbor Paula MacKinnon can attest to the increase in traffic when Zurcher has his display out.
“We’ve had more traffic and people stopping and spending a few minutes and looking at all his animated displays,” she said. “The displays are wonderful, and you can tell that he is very talented with all of the animations with them.”
MacKinnon has lived by Zurcher for five years. Although the neighborhood is heavy with Christmas spirit, MacKinnon said the season wasn’t quite the same when Zurcher didn’t participate.
“We certainly missed having them out, so it was good to see them out again this year. They just make you smile,” she said about the displays. “I am glad I get to live across the street from him.”
Zurcher has no plans to miss another year of spreading cheer with his one-of-a-kind decorations, so long as “the good Lord doesn’t turn the page on me.”
The display will be set up from 5 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 30.
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.