Midway Crèche

Recreating The Magic And Wonder Of The Season

Christmas Manger scene with figurines including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep and wise men. Focus on baby!

This traditional Christmas carol, sung widely throughout the English-speaking world, lyrically paints the scene of the baby Jesus nestled in hay, in a barn or a cave, while His parents look on as He is visited by shepherds, their animals and the Three Wise Men.

There is no finer a representation of this iconic scene representing the birth of Jesus than this year’s “Come Let Us Adore Him” Interfaith Crèche Exhibit in Midway.

Over 250 crèches (also known as nativity scenes) from all over the world will be displayed amongst beautiful Christmas settings at the Community Center. This spectacular collection will showcase representations of the Holy Family in a wide variety of media, including scenes made from hand-carved wood, porcelain, fabric and more.

Behind The Crèche Scenes

Every year, visitors stroll through aisles of displays where “all is calm.” Parents point out nativities to their children in a whisper. Faithful onlookers reverently study the face of Mary. Every child silently looks for a sleeping baby Jesus. Yet many are unaware of the work and attention to detail required for the event to take place.

Beginning in October, the 250 crèches must be gathered, unwrapped, catalogued and placed. In 2018, it took a group of eight talented designers to transform the Community Center into the perfect Christmas setting with handcrafted themed backdrops built to resemble Bethlehem. This year, more than 150 volunteers will help with set-up and tear down, and serve as hosts and greeters during the event.

We have the Midway Boosters to thank for making the Interfaith Crèche Exhibit free to the Heber Valley every year. An active community organization that provides funding for scholarships to high school students in the Heber Valley, the Midway Boosters is also active in providing grants to support and launch new community events to drive tourists and economic growth to Midway.

This annual event, however, tugs at the heart strings. “Crèche is a gift to the community; a labor of love,” says Jody Klotovich, chairperson of the 2019 crèche exhibit and outgoing president of the Midway Boosters.

Jody admits that she “didn’t even know what crèche was” when she joined the Boosters. Several years ago, when Jody was just starting to get involved with the event, now-Mayor Celeste Johnson was heading the crèche effort and needed help. An integral part of Midway’s holiday season, Mayor Johnson feels strongly about the event: “It fits beautifully for the town.” Jody now credits the mayor’s involvement years ago and her continued interest as one of the reasons why the crèche exhibit remains an annual event.

In its inception, the Midway Interfaith Crèche Exhibit started with help from local churches. The churches got the word out, provided volunteers and asked congregants to lend their personal crèches to the exhibit. The event has grown substantially over the years, and there are plans to reach out to the interfaith community to secure additional crèche exhibits and volunteers to ensure that the event continues to flourish in the years to come.

The Making Of A Christmas Tradition

The Midway Community Center is not the only place to find a wealth of crèche displays; nay — just look to the house upon the hill.

Holly Zenger’s home, where she resides with her husband Jack, houses one of the largest and most diverse private collections of crèches in the country and, perhaps, the world.

Holly smiles when asked about the exact size of her collection. Her eyes twinkle, “Not as many as I want, but more than what I need.”

A native Utahn, Holly and a few friends started a crèche display while living in Palo Alto, California. Their exhibit was nationally recognized, with Sunset Magazine citing it as one of the places to go during the holiday season.

When Holly moved to Midway decades ago, the Christmas exhibit moved with her. And it grew.

As a founding board member and a current board member of Friends of the Crèche, Holly has the opportunity to share both her passion and knowledge of crèche with the Heber Valley community. Created to promote the study of crèche as well as the creation and collection of nativity scenes worldwide, the organization has led to Holly attending conferences in both the United States and Europe. In her travels, she’s had the opportunity to view and acquire crèches from around the world, supplementing her collection with a wide variety of crèches that showcase different cultures. One such crèche on display: a rare Fontanini Bethlehem Village.

In 1997, Holly and Jack first opened their home to share her treasures. Despite parking challenges, an estimated 4,000 people toured the exhibit in their home. Twenty years later, Holly repeated her open house — and she plans to host viewing at her home again this year.

When it comes to showing her collection, Holly explains that the “exhausting part is setting it up,” as nearly every room in her house is filled with multiple nativities. She credits her two sisters and a core group of supporters – including Katherine Hall, Randy Moore and Renae Bushman — for the set-up assistance. When asked why she chooses to have a month-long open house — a month is a long time to have strangers in your home — Holly remarks, “It takes a lot of people and time to set-up. That’s why I keep it so long.” Last year, in lieu of an open house, elements of Holly’s crèche collection were on display at the BYU Library for the holiday season.

In speaking with Holly about the opportunities she’s experienced thanks to crèches, of course she turns the conversation to the “opportunities” available to the Holy Family in Bethlehem all those years ago. One thing is certain: just like the true nativity, no matter the setting — cave, house, barn, stable — the Midway crèche exhibits are sure to recreate the magic and wonder of the season.

19th Annual Interfaith Crèche Exhibit

Friday, December 6 –
Monday, December 9

11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Midway Community Center

Last year an estimated 6,000 attendees viewed the family-friendly exhibit during the Christmas season. In the past, an outdoor live nativity scene — complete with the requisite animals — served as the perfect backdrop for family photos.

Admission is free for all and the entire event is wheelchair-accessible.

The Zenger Crèche Exhibit

View Holly’s collection of crèche from around the world!

Open to the public the first three weekends in December (including Mondays). Group visits are available on weekdays by appointment.

275 Luzen Road, Midway
For more information, call 435-654-6604.

 

 

By Noni Henderson

Driving along Casperville Road, you may notice the eye-catching memorabilia on display and wonder what exactly you are seeing. On this back road is a unique treasure trove of antiques, each with a story full of memories, history, and knowledge of our incredible valley, you likely won’t find anywhere else.

It was a gusty, freezing spring morning when I stopped at John Besendorfer’s Casperville Road Museum, as he calls it. I had dressed warmly, knowing that once we started the tour, there would be so much to see and talk about that I wouldn’t want to be distracted by the chill. In the few hours I was there, I heard a lot of fascinating details; I would have needed days to hear all the stories and history John is so generous to share.

John was born and raised on this family farm established in 1889 by his pioneer grandparents, who built the barn when the area was nothing but sagebrush. The farm was one of the many dairies located within Wasatch County, until 2018 when, after 130 plus years, they closed the doors. Now there are only two active dairies left in the valley. John remembers no running water, no inside bathroom, or electricity growing up as a young boy, but there was plenty of hard work to keep everyone busy. John and his wife Jane raised seven children on the farm and had been harmoniously married for 52 years until Jane’s passing two years ago.

John and Jane ran the farm together with Jane taking over while he taught school during the day. Over his 30-year teaching career in Midway and Heber, John taught 1,000 students and knew every person in the valley, which would have been 3,000 people at the time. With John’s knowledge of the valley’s residents and the couple’s love of history, it was only natural that their farm soon filled with antique artifacts. It was inevitable that John and Jane would heed the call to preserve history, and that is precisely what they have done. Although Jane no longer accompanies John while he leads the tour, one can’t help but feel her presence, as if she might suddenly appear to tell you the stories that only she knew of certain items.

The museum’s collection began with wooden wagon wheels from a family inheritance. Fifty years later, there are enough artifacts to fill eight to ten buildings. One of their more significant projects was a pioneer home that was carefully transported from Charleston using railroad jacks and a semi-trailer. Their collections are impressive and have been added to by way of yard sales, estate sales, and anything for sale that caught their attention, along with various generous donations.

As we walked and talked, John happily told the stories behind each item. There were stories of guns and swords found locally, swans, sleds and bottles, and a replica of a fire engine that he helped build. Stories about a “hair loomed” heirloom made from real hair, horse bones, and a collection of over 100 wrenches. If only the stamp collection and compilation of Heber high school graduating class pictures (probably the only one in the valley) could talk — what stories would they tell? You’ll find both in the “School House” building.

The list of artifacts goes on and on, with many holding special meaning. John’s favorite is his great grandfather’s Mormon Battalion uniform, sword, and cane that he inherited. Having come through both the Mexican War and the Black Hawk war, the artifacts are close to John’s heart and too valuable to be displayed publicly, but he still loves talking about their stories.

John’s family lives close by; his son lives next to him, and two other children live in the valley. His older brother lives on the other side of him with his own smaller collection of buildings and memorabilia.

Since the dairy is no longer there to draw in weekly visitors, John keeps busy every day and has had time to expand the museum by adding a few more themed rooms. Though they are a constant work in progress, he hopes to have the rooms ready for visitors this summer.

One of the most incredible things about John, besides his amazing memory, is his peaceful and sharing spirit. The museum came to be because he and Jane “felt the spirit of preservation, felt a spiritual prompting and power of guidance to do so.”

If you are fortunate to know someone from John’s generation, you know it’s always so interesting to talk about the experiences of their lifetime. John says it’s a privilege for him to have all this history for others to enjoy. To have them look at something and remember simpler times of their childhood and the sheer happiness it brings them. “This museum is to share, and if it can be an education, answer a question, enlighten about the past, then it has served its purpose — it’s multi-purpose.”

People like John and his family are our connections to the past. Their wealth of information keeps our community’s stories alive in our hearts. We need these connections, especially as the world changes with each passing day, and new residents move in and wonder about our rich history. Wasatch County is lucky to have the Casperville museum — go for a drive and take a tour. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone as passionate or as knowledgeable about our entire valley’s history, families, and roots as John Besendorfer on Casperville Road.

Local’s Tip: Please call ahead for reservations 435-654-1459. Although not asked for, the museum would not decline donations.