For more than 40 years, the Richmond State Supported Living Center (RSSLC), formerly Richmond State School, has been delighting visitors of all ages with Project Noel, a collection of Christmas displays featuring holiday favorites from Santa Claus to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Children who first saw the project blossom in the early 1970’s now bring their children and grandchildren to see the more than 40 holiday scenes that light up and decorate the 241-acre campus. When adults bring their children through, it reminds them of the storybook characters they grew up with.
It really brings a family together because it lends itself to passing on stories from their childhood and the first time they drove through campus in its entire holiday splendor. The continued success of Project Noel is because of the support of the community and the nostalgia that accompanies the endeavor.
In 1970, RSS Superintendent, Russell White, came up with the concept of Project Noel. The facility started by wrapping the flagpoles on the school grounds with red ribbon to simulate candy canes. Then, different departments at RSSLC designed and created individual scenes. Over the years, the project grew to include volunteers and corporations. Some of the original displays are still in place, although many of the early ones faced problems as they aged.
“Some of the old displays were made out of paper mache, chicken wire and lumber and they needed help…so we dipped sheets in starch to keep them together, “explained Rick Manuel, the former RSSLC maintenance technician who had been in charge of Project Noel since 1973.
It was Rick Manuel’s wife, Janis, who found a product about twenty years ago called Celastics from Germany that withstands the elements. They dipped treated Celastic in methelethelkeytone instead of paper mache. They also used Fiberglass on some of them. Since then, Celastic has continued to be used, although the process has changed as new improvements are discovered.
Past Project Noel chairs include Janice Manuel, Roy Napper, Rod Poythress, Tom Dunnigan, Rick Manuel and now Mark Springer.
Carl Kelly, the husband of Volunteer Services Director, Sue Kelly, built the first display using a favorite storybook character, Winnie the Pooh in 1971. The next display was Snoopy built by RSSLC employees.
1. Pole cards (total of 36) – made by different RSS employees and volunteers (many of the original cards were made by Cindy Nulisch) during the early to mid 1970’s. Six new cards were created and added in 2007 by Granite Properties employees.
2. Santa and his “reinhorses” – made by Therapeutic Riding Center employees and donated in 1999.
3. Santa’s Farmhouse – made by Therapeutic Riding Center employees and donated in 2002.
4. Snoopy – 2nd oldest display – made by employees in 1972.
5. Tarzan – made by Brian Albrecht, a Boy Scout for his Eagle project.
6. Shrek – made by Megan Hartensteiner for her Girl Scout Silver Award project in 2007.
7. Two lighted Christmas trees – made every year by RSSLC Maintenance employees.
8. Star Wars – Susan Robinson, a former RSSLC Unit Director, and part of the Deaf/Blind grant group made this display in 1978.
9. Happy New Year/Merry Christmas – purchased by the VSC in 1972 and was originally displayed on the roof of the superintendent’s house, Mr. White. The birm was constructed in 1988 and the displays were moved to the birm.
10. Mailbox/presents – The VSC donated the materials and RSS Maintenance employees made the display in 1985.
11. Doves – purchased by the VSC in 1975.
12. Camels/Nativity scene – made by Janis Manuel in 1976.
13. Western Santa scene – donated by Willie Rodriguez, retired Director of Security, in 2005.
14. Nativity Scene – donated by Larry Lerma, Supply Director, in 2007.
15. Hanukah – made and donated by two Jewish gentlemen in 2005.
16. Bible – originally designed and made by Dick Robbins (former RSSLC Chaplain, UD, IT Director) and later renovated by Roy Napper and John Waddill in 1980.
17. Religious symbols – designed and created by Euleta “Bill” Bell with the maintenance department in 1984.
18. Church and carolers – one of the oldest displays made by RSSLC employees in 1980.
19. Noel (on Trinity) – purchased by the VSC and made by Maintenance in 1979.
20. 101 Dalmatians – made and donated by International Bank of Commerce in 1998.
21. Kwanzaa – created and donated by Ollie Stegal, former RSSLC X-ray technician, in 1993.
22. Grinch – several employees were hired as a result of a Deaf/Blind grant and they built this display in 1983.
23. Toy Story – created and donated by Angela Hundl in 2000 for her Girl Scout Gold Award.
24. Wreath – the first wreath was built by Maintenance in 1975 – the second wreath was built and donated by WKM Foundry in 1991.
25. Nite before Christmas – the VSC bought the materials and Janice Manuel created the display in 1985.
26. Gingerbread Lane – made by Tom Dunnigan, former Workshop Manager, and donated in 1978.
27. Reindeers – donated by a family in Pecan Grove in 1996.
28. Raggedy Ann and Andy – Jim Terry, former RSS Recreation Director, made this display and donated it in 1976.
29. Flintstones – created by a local artist, Monroe Williams, and donated in 1993.
30. Roger Rabbit – fashioned after the popular movie in 1988.
31. Rugrats – made and donated by Speedway Signs in 2005.
32. Elf Workshop – made by Lou Cummings, a former Adaptive Behavior instructor and later the Foster Grandparent Coordinator, and donated in 1987.
33. Alice in Wonderland – made by Moon Weiss, the former Assistant Director of Volunteer Services, and donated in 1974. Carl Kelly, the one who built the Winnie the Pooh display in 1971, inspired all these 3D characters.
34. Cinderella – the same group of employees from the Deaf/Blind grant who built the Grinch built this one in 1979.
35. Peter Pan – built by Irene Murphy, a former RSS Social Worker, in 1974.
36. Disneyland – created and donated in 1975 by a former local police officer, Bailey Anderson, who later became an RSSLC employee (former UD and Director of Residential Services).
37. Wizard of OZ – originally started by Moon Weiss and completed by Janis Manuel with Judy Schmid’s and the Maintenance department’s help in 1984.
38. Snow Couple – created by Janis Manuel in 1981.
39. Sesame Street – created by the Deaf/Blind grant employees and Janis Manuel in 1980. This year (2011), Kermit the Frog has returned to Sesame Street thanks to the creativity of Mark Springer.
40. Winnie the Pooh – the first display created by Carl Kelly. He used it as a teaching tool. First created in paper mache.
41. Beauty and the Beast – built by Sue Cruver, former Director of Community Relations, and her women’s group in 1993.
42. Santa’s house – former RSS employee Reggie Pope made this entire project.
43. Santa and Rudolph donated in 2004.
44. Snow Family – made and donated by Therapeutic Riding Center employees in 2004.
45. Santa and his helpers – made and donated by Kempner High School Psychology Club in 2008.
46. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and friends – made by RSSLC employee volunteers and painted by Kempner High School Psychology Club in 2010.
47. Santa’s Workshop – made by Joshua Alderman as his 2011 Eagle Scout Project.
Project Noel is funded by the non-profit organization, the Volunteer Services Council (VSC) of the Richmond State Supported Living Center. If you or your group would like to adopt an existing display for refurbishing or to create a new one, please contact the Community Relations office at RSSLC, 281/344-4525.
Project Noel runs from 6 – 9:00 p.m. each night which began December 1 and will be available through December 31.
Santa and his elves will visit with children from 6 – 9 p.m. on December 16, 17, 18. Take a picture with Santa for $ 3 each or bring your own camera. The tour of displays and Santa’s visit are free. A box is set up at the end of the tour if you would like to make a donation. All proceeds go towards programs and services that directly benefit the residents of the Richmond State Supported Living Center.