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Christmas spirit lights up Lehnertz Avenue

Pastor Norbert Szudarski reads passage scripture with help from altar server SamanthGaddis Sunday during ceremonies blessing Nativity scene Garfield Park.

Pastor Norbert Szudarski reads a passage of scripture with help from altar server Samantha Gaddis Sunday during ceremonies blessing the Nativity scene in Garfield Park. For the 61st year homeowners along Lehnertz Avenue have told the story of Christmas with decorations in their yards. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:07AM

For as long as residents have been lighting up Lehnertz Avenue, Carolyn Clemen has been among them. As the Aurora street’s longest living resident, Clemen, 92, has been a part of the a Christmas tradition since its inception, 61 years ago.

On Sunday, she celebrated with neighbors and spectators, who brought the Christmas spirit to life, again.

“It’s so awesome to see it start out, and become what it is now,” Clemen said as she handed out cocoa and cookies to young carolers. “I’ve gotten to watch all of the generations grow up.”

Families have created long-standing traditions out of coming to the street’s annual crib blessing to kick-off the holiday season. Some say, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to Lehnertz Avenue.

Sarah Schmidt and daughter Abby, 3, snuggled up to keep warm as they soaked up the scene. Lights decorated every house on the street, and the sound of music filled the air as speakers on light post played continuous Christmas tunes.

The display features open pages of the Bible with red candles on the south side of the street, while on the north side of the street are shepherds and sheep that illuminate the front yards of every home from Sheridan to Ohio streets.

“I’ve been coming since I was smaller than (my daughter),” Sarah Schmidt said. “Now, I cry. It’s such a great tradition. My mom took me here, and now I take her here.”

The Schmidts travel the street at least five times every year, Sarah said—and they’re not alone. Car after car after car quietly creep down the twinkling street as they read about the story of Christ.

Void are displays of grandeur and flashy scenes. Instead, families work hard to keep the “Christ” in Christmas.

“Anything I can do to teach my young kids about the true meaning of Christmas is the way to go,” said Patricia Cummins, who moved to Lehnertz Avenue in 2004. With her twins, Kaizon and Kailene, 9, in tow, Patricia joined more than 60 others at Garfield Park where Deacon Norbert Szudarski of St. Joseph Parish blessed the street’s lighted nativity scene.

“This really brings the whole street together,” she said.

And, as hard as the residents work to put on the event, people like Nancy Coughlin, of St. Joseph Catholic School, were willing to give back. Coughlin and dozens of young students and their families went door-to-door on Lehnertz Avenue’s opening night, caroling to the residents.

“As a little girl, I remember coming here with my parents,” she said.

“Some people say the season doesn’t start until the (Lehnertz Avenue) crib is blessed. It’s nice to be a part of that.”

The group stopped by the home of Bobby and Liz Ayala, who have lived on the street for 15 years. The couple and their daughter, Amber, smiled brightly as they listened to the children sing.

“It was a nice surprise. We enjoyed it,” Liz said of the caroling kids. Down the way, resident Sue Gardner eagerly anticipated the children’s arrival.
“I called their principal to make sure they came this way,” she said, serving juice and warm cocoa to the crowd. “It’s really special to have them here this year.”

With Clemen by her side, the two women reminisced about the days of the past, when carolers frequented the street. Today, it’s more common to see families bundled up in their cars as they make their way from house to house.

“It’s a hard process to get all of this up,” said Jon Woods, President of the Lehnertz Avenue Home Improvement Association. “But, when we get together to do this each year, it’s very special. Hopefully this lives on for another 61 years.”

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