Walking through the American Cancer Society's Christmas Fantasy House, the holiday spirit is dazzling, dashed on the walls with candy-cane stripes and icicle lights, and brought to life in every cranny with ornaments and sparkles.
"We all love Christmas and hate cancer," said Cathy Scholl, one of 25 volunteers on the committee who organizes the event.
For 21 years, a group of local volunteers has organized the annual fantasy house, meant to raise money for the American Cancer Society and spread cheer to children with cancer. The house, in Brookfield this year, opened Nov. 2 and will be open until Nov. 10.
The annual project was inspired by Loretta Thompson, a volunteer for ACS who wanted to raise money to fight childhood cancer with a display of her extensive Christmas decorations. She died before she could open her fantasy house, so volunteers finished it for her.
"It just snowballed from there," volunteer Holly Kuettel said.
In the last 21 years, the group has raised almost $2.5 million for the American Cancer Society, Scholl said. This year, the group hopes to raise $150,000 to $200,000, and see more than 6,000 visitors over nine days.
Decorators go all out
In addition to the classic touches of green and red, each of the 13 design teams brought something off-beat to their rooms to inspire visitors to think creatively about decorating their own houses. Puffs of tissue paper are triangulated on a wall to form a colorful Christmas tree, cookie cutters hang from a chandelier, and an upside-down tree hangs from a balcony.
Decorators Kathy Murry and Sue Kaucic, from Brookfield's Tickled Pink, spent a full work week away from the store to prepare their room. The den, complete with a fireplace, is decked in warm colors with inspirational messages written on the accessories.
"We look forward to it every year," said Murry, who has been participating for eight years.
In the basement, visitors can decorate tribute ornaments for those who have had cancer, buy baked goods and purchase raffle tickets for more than 60 gift baskets — all donated. About 170 volunteers are involved in the whole production, Kuettel said, helping prepare the house, run shuttle buses to connect visitors to parking and staff the event.
An open Christmas card and pen on the kitchen counter seems to have been left out by the home's residents. But Kuettel said it's just a prop; the family had to leave for 21/2 weeks while their house was transformed.
"The house is not functional," Kuettel noted.
Indeed, there's a toilet sealed with a pink bow, a sink and bathtub flooded with ornaments and toy cardinals squeaking incessantly from a ceiling.
Special gathering offered
In addition to organizing the fantasy house, the volunteer committee also put on a day of activities for kids with cancer and their families at Brookfield Presbyterian Church on Saturday. Santa made a visit, and the kids were treated to lunch, crafts, face-painting and gifts.
"The parents and kids are with people who are going through the same thing," volunteer Fran Hennig said. "We put our heart and soul into this event."
The volunteer comittee is already looking for a family to volunteer their house for the next year's event.
If you go
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 9 and Nov. 10
WHERE: Park in the parking lot at the former Menards building, 20005 W. Bluemound Road, during the week or at Wheaton Franciscan, 19333 W North Ave., on the weekend; shuttles to the house run every 15 minutes
COST: $20 at the door, $18 in advance; children 12 and younger get in free
CONTACT: American Cancer Society, (262) 312-4364
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