Ypsilanti's Diane and Kevin Kerr deck the White House halls with boughs and holly
Long-time Ypsilanti movers and shakers Diane and Kevin Kerr spent the week after Thanksgiving decking the halls with boughs and holly.
But these weren’t just any halls. These were the halls of the Blue Room, the Green Room and the visitor’s entrance to the White House. “It’s the ultimate decorating experience,” Diane said.
Photo courtesy of Diane Kerr
They spent five days making ornaments, stringing garland and hanging bulbs on some of the 51 live White House Christmas trees.
They applied for the honor, and were two of 140 people from around the nation selected to help out for the holidays at the White House. They cut their teeth on the nation’s Capitol when they helped decorate Nancy Pelosi’s office. Their daughter, Stacy Kerr, served as special assistant to the former House speaker.
This year, they worked on the Blue Room’s Christmas tree, an 18-foot fir with a military theme honoring Gold Star families, those who have lost a loved one. It is the largest of the interior White House trees and it was decorated with military patches and medals, Kerr said. She sorted through the letters from children of servicemen and women that were used on the tree.
“It was very moving and I eventually had to stop reading,” she said. “They were asking when their dads would come home or saying they hadn’t seen their dads in months.”
Some 85,000 visitors will go through the White House during the holidays, Kerr said.
Their first two days were spent in the warehouse, putting the hangers on the ornaments, selecting cards sent by children that were used in garlands and repurposing old ornaments. Last year’s silver ornaments, for example, were painted gold for this year’s trees, Kerr said.
While they didn’t see members of the first family — when first daughters Sasha and Malia came home from school, volunteers were shuttled out of the hallway — there were sightings of White House staff, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. “But we did see the president’s motorcade come and go,” Diane said.
And on the final day, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the crowd at a volunteer party.
While the Kerrs had free run of the public spaces, Diane spent time in a space off-limits to most: the infirmary. As she was wrapping up work in the Green Room, another volunteer was on a ladder applying hot glue to an ornament. The volunteer dropped the ornament and Kerr reached out to grab it, suffering a second-degree burn on the tip of a finger. She was taken to the White House physician who examined it. “It was for love of country,” Diane quipped. “All I could think of was I didn’t want to get glue on the White House carpet.”
There was an Ypsilanti connection to their work.
“In all the time we were at the White House, anytime we moved a ladder, climbed a ladder or touched a ladder, it was always with a 'Michigan Ladder made in Ypsilanti' sticker on it. It was a cool connection to home.” Michigan Ladder has been in Ypsilanti for more than 100 years.
And here's an ironic twist. The Kerrs don’t have a Christmas tree of their own. They spend Christmas in Florida and don’t bother with a tree.
“We rent a house next to the beach and we cut wrapping paper in the shape of a tree and tape it to the wall, using a beach towel for a Christmas tree skirt,” Diane said. “All of our Christmas things are back in Michigan.”