The Lutheran Home at Topton putz to open on Dec. 2
When a ceiling collapsed in May during renovation work in the Old Main building at The Lutheran Home at Topton, debris landed on an elaborate putz that has been on display there for many decades.
Topton Home Maintenance Manager Paul Moriarity knew just who to call to rescue the impressive room full of miniatures which had to be removed so the ceiling could be replaced. Topton home residents Lou Molnar, 76, and Richard Hartley, 73, came to the rescue.
Both had lived in Green Acres Park, Breinigsville, before moving to The Lutheran Home at Topton cottages.
“Lou already volunteered on campus and has assisted in other minor projects,” Moriarity told The Press. “I knew he would do an excellent job the correct way.
“He asked other residents whom he thought would be good to help him and that is how Richard was introduced to the project.
“That was a good choice, as they are an excellent team and have done a fantastic job.”
Since then, they have volunteered hundreds of hours, along with a friend, Slatington resident Paul Prudente, 72, in an effort to have the putz reassembled and ready to be open to the public for the Christmas season.
The display was originally created by Ida Henry, who was a matron at the home between 1909 and 1946 when it was a home for orphaned children. Henry created the first scene, depicting the annunciation of the Virgin Mary, as a Christmas gift to the orphans, using real hair for Mary and fashioning her dress from a white kid glove.
Every year after that, she added additional scenes to the display, and once the entire Holy birth story had been shown, she — sometimes with help from some of the children — created other fun displays to add to the putz, which covers 560 square feet.
Now, while the $8.2 million renovation project continues elsewhere in Old Main, the three volunteers spend a few hours each day, several days a week working on the putz.
The work involves far more that unpacking boxes and finding a new home for the contents.
Hartley said pictures of the putz details were taken before the items were packed, “so we’d have something to refer to.”
They were wrapped carefully in tissue paper, and the bundles were numbered. Each item must now be carefully cleaned, repaired and restored to its best condition before returning it to its position in the putz.
There are hundreds and hundreds of them, including dozens of tiny people waiting at a train station, 80 or so sheep being tended by shepherds, a heavenly host of angels hanging from cotton clouds and a flock of chickens on a Bethlehem rooftop.
“It took me two hours to unpack the sheep and set them up,” Molnar said. “I thought I’d never get done.”
Molnar is a retired tradesman and had done some electrical work on the Topton campus before.
He and Hartley both serve on the home’s plant operations committee. Both live in cottages on the campus, Molnar for six years and Hartley for four years. Prudente is a friend of Molnar’s.
“He is very good with the trains,” Molnar said of Prudente when The Press visited their work session Nov. 13. Molnar handles the extensive rewiring of the lighting and moving parts of the display, sometimes crawling under the platform.
“There’s hundreds of wires under there,” he said.
Hartley is working with placing the miniatures and recreating the landscaping details of the putz.
“Richard is very good at that sort of thing,” Molnar said.
Despite their expertise, all of their hours of work on the project are unpaid.
“They couldn’t afford us!” Prudente quips. It is obvious that they enjoy each other’s company as they cooperate to complete the impressive display.
Once completed, a church in the display will include tiny hymnals, people sitting in the pews and a wedding party exiting the church on the front steps. Henry designed the church’s clock tower so that a pocket watch could be fitted into the carving of the tower.
The putz will be open to the public in December but sometimes people who are visiting the Brandywine Public Library, also housed in Old Main, will stop in to have a look.
“There were 20 people here the other day,” Molnar said. “A third of them took a look for two minutes and left, another third were interested, asked some questions and I played the (recorded narration) for them and the other third were really intrigued and stayed a while.”
On Monday, the amusement park was nearly completed (the roller coaster was still a work in progress), the huge Christmas tree was decorated, a replica of the old orphanage building with Mr. and Mrs. Henry on the front porch with the orphans was done, along with all of the Christmas story display.
Molnar was up on the platform, installing a Statue of Liberty on top of the Radio City Music Hall.
Hartley was studying the photo album for clues about how to place miniatures around the train station. And Prudente was taking apart the Toonerville Trolley to repair and clean the chassis.
“We will be about 90-percent finished by December,” Hartley said. The remainder of the work will be done in time for next year’s holiday season.
The Putz will be open to the public 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 30. Large-group or special tours may be arranged by contacting Karen Sinkovits at 610-682-1425. The Lutheran Home at Topton is located at 1 S. Home Ave., Topton.