Lake Zurich woman's home a showcase for holiday collectibles

Lake Zurich woman's home a showcase for holiday collectibles

  • Lake Zurich's Joanie Cecola's apartment is stuffed wall to wall with a Christmas wonderland of toys, trains and various Christmas trees. One of her favorites is her train set, which was set up by one of her sons and has a dancing Santa in the engine compartment.

      Lake Zurich's Joanie Cecola's apartment is stuffed wall to wall with a Christmas wonderland of toys, trains and various Christmas trees. One of her favorites is her train set, which was set up by one of her sons and has a dancing Santa in the engine compartment. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Beyond the multiple villages, Joanie Cecola's display also has six trees adorned with different themed ornaments.

      Beyond the multiple villages, Joanie Cecola's display also has six trees adorned with different themed ornaments. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 12/19/2018 6:26 AM

When Joanie Cecola moved to Azpira Place, the senior living community in Lake Zurich, from her four-bedroom home in Barrington, she knew she had to scale back much of her belongings.

But this mother of three grown sons, who will turn 80 next month, drew the line when it came to her passion: Christmas decorations. And her sons agreed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
One of Joanie Cecola's favorite collections is a miniature set of amusement rides from the old Riverview Park on Chicago's North Side.
  One of Joanie Cecola's favorite collections is a miniature set of amusement rides from the old Riverview Park on Chicago's North Side. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"I promised to keep as much of her Christmas treasures as possible," says her son, Robin, now of Playa Del Rey, California.

In doing so, he and his mother had to wait for a unit on the first floor, which has a 12-foot ceiling. The better to circle the living room with tiers of shelves to showcase her many Christmas villages and collectibles.

"She has always loved the sheer magic and beauty of the Christmas season," Robin Cecola says.

It took him weeks to assemble all of the Christmas collectibles around the one-bedroom apartment. Beyond the villages, she also has six trees adorned with different themed ornaments, including one that features all of the White House official ornaments.

Lake Zurich's Joanie Cecola's apartment is stuffed wall to wall with holiday decorations, including various village settings.
  Lake Zurich's Joanie Cecola's apartment is stuffed wall to wall with holiday decorations, including various village settings. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
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"We blew fuses twice when we went to turn it all on," Robin Cecola concedes.

One of Joanie Cecola's favorite collections is a miniature set of amusement rides from the old Riverview Park on Chicago's North Side. She also began collecting antique fire trucks and stations in a nod to another son who served for a time as a volunteer fireman. Her large collection of angels turns up in many of the different vignettes.

Residents of Lake Zurich's Azpira Place can wander through the display during a one-day open house in Joanie Cecola's apartment.
  Residents of Lake Zurich's Azpira Place can wander through the display during a one-day open house in Joanie Cecola's apartment. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"It all began when I used to spend time with my Aunt Millie as a child," Joanie Cecola says. "She had a great passion for shopping, and we'd go to the dime stores and find these little houses made of cardboard. I think they each cost 10 cents."

Cecola says she fell in love with these little houses and used to think of them as her doll houses.

an adult, she made the transition from cardboard to the small, hand-painted ceramic villages made by Department 56. She loves the nostalgic look to them, she says, especially the Dickens Village, which captures the spirit of Christmas in Victorian England, as well as the New England series and Santa's village.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Lake Zurich's Joanie Cecola's apartment is stuffed wall to wall with a Christmas wonderland of collectibles and holiday decor.
  Lake Zurich's Joanie Cecola's apartment is stuffed wall to wall with a Christmas wonderland of collectibles and holiday decor. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

When her boys were a little older, she made an elaborate display of her villages on the dining room table, complete with different levels to simulate mountains.

"I loved it so much I started putting them everywhere," she says. "And then after working on them for so long and seeing how beautiful they were, I didn't want to take them down."

Cecola moved into Azpira Place in July of 2017, when she was among one of its first residents. She now works out on a stationary bike two to three times a week in its workout facility, and she enjoys walking around its spacious campus.

Joanie Cecola welcomes visitors to her apartment at Azpira Place in Lake Zurich. "It just brings me so much happiness and joy," Cecola says. "I love it. It brings me peace."
  Joanie Cecola welcomes visitors to her apartment at Azpira Place in Lake Zurich. "It just brings me so much happiness and joy," Cecola says. "I love it. It brings me peace." - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

When her son, Robin, came in for Thanksgiving last year, he began assembling her collection. When he finally finished, they both decided to open the apartment up to share the display with other residents. The one-day open house drew a line of people that wrapped around the hallway.

Ornaments from the White House hang on a Christmas tree in Joanie Cecola's Lake Zurich apartment.
  Ornaments from the White House hang on a Christmas tree in Joanie Cecola's Lake Zurich apartment. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"Other than family and friends, I've never shown it to people," Joanie Cecola says. "I had no idea it would draw so much interest."

Cecola adds that she will open it up again this year, but only to residents at Azpira Place. In the meantime, she enjoys sitting back at night, looking at all the lights and the bustling people in the Christmas villages.

"It just brings me so much happiness and joy," Cecola says. "I love it. It brings me peace."

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