Neighbors come, go; warm tradition remains

Dennis DalmanFeatured News, News, Sartell – St. StephenLeave a Comment

by Dennis Dalman

Through the years, neighbors come and neighbors go, but in the Royce and Bonnie Nies neighborhood in Sartell, a tradition that bonds neighbors old and new remains unchanging.

It’s the Oak Hill Luminary Night, which takes place the first Sunday of every December. This year, it will take place starting at 5 p.m. Dec. 3. The night is always illuminated with the hushed glow of candle luminaries softly shimmering throughout the neighborhood. It’s a way to begin the holiday season and to honor and bond with others.

Thirty years ago, the Nies family started the tradition to honor Bonnie’s father, Pat Cheeley of Cold Spring, who had died from a sudden stroke at age 64 in May of 1988. At that time, the Nieses were living in St. Cloud. The luminary night in their neighborhood, Bonnie said, was a way “not to be so sad” that Christmas, a sorrowful reminder that her father was gone, and would nevertheless be “spending Christmas with Jesus.”

And then, the tradition kept continuing year after year, with enthusiastic neighbors joining in and with paper-bag luminaries lighting driveways, doorsteps and sidewalks throughout the neighborhood.

When the Nieses moved to Sartell, the same tradition continued in their new city, their new neighborhood. Families in as many as 60 homes have participated in the tradition year after year.

“The occupants of the house have changed, and now there are maybe about 40 homes that share in the tradition,” Bonnie said.

In three decades, the paper-bag luminaries have given way to glass-jar candles, but the feeling of neighborly camaraderie and warmth is exactly the same.

And this year, Bonnie added, the “torch” will be passed on to newer, younger neighbors – the Steve and Leigh Klaverkamp family just across the street from the Nieses. The Klaverkamps have three young girls: Britta, middle school; Lucy, fourth grade; and Cora, pre-school.

They, like other new neighbors to the area, have brought a whole new level of “youngness” to the neighborhood, Bonnie noted.

Steve and Leigh were Sartell classmates who fell in love and married.

“It’s good to hear in the morning kids yelling and running down the street,” she said. “It makes us feel young again. And, with that youngness, a whole new cycle starts over.”

The “newness” includes Oak Hill Luminary Night, with its new, young hosts – the Klaverkamps. When the Nieses talked to them about perhaps organizing and hosting the luminary night, they were more than eager and willing to do so, to keep the tradition going forward.

The Klaverkamps decided to have a gathering this Dec. 3 in their heated garage with wine, hot chocolate, apple cider and festive snacks. There will also be a fun surprise for children – a piñata. The Nieses will also have treats and surprises in their heated garage. The treats include lots of homemade cookies baked by Bonnie, her two daughters Tiffany and Shannon, the Nies grandchildren and several neighbor girls.

“The holiday season is a hectic time of year, and Luminary Night reminds us to stop and take time to give thanks, welcome new neighbors and perhaps say goodbye to older neighbors. It’s also a time to celebrate the ‘Reason for the Season.’ We are happy knowing our 30-year tradition of Oak Hill Luminary Night will continue, and we look forward to lighting up the evening skies that first Sunday in December for many years to come.”

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Royce and Bonnie Nies help two of their grandchildren, Jack and Sophie Heathcote, light a luminary outside their home.

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The extended Royce and Bonnie Nies family members have all enjoyed their Oak Hill Luminary Night year after year, and they will continues to enjoy it as hosted by their neighbors, Steve and Leigh Klaverkamp. From left to right, starting at the top of the stairs, are Royce and Bonnie Nies; Kim Thyen-Nies and husband Jason Nies; Adam Heathcote, the dogs Truman and Maria, Shannon Nies (owner of the two dogs), Tiffany Heathcote (Adam’s wife at lower right of row); Tristen Nies, Mac Nies; and (bottom row) Jack Heathcote, Mitiku Nies, Genet Nies and Sophie Heathcote. Tristen, Mac, Mitiku and Genet are the children of Jason and Kim. Jack and Sophie are the children of Adam and Tiffany Heathcote, who is one of the Nieses two daughters, the other being Shannon.

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A glass-jar luminary glows during Luminary Night in a Sartell neighborhood.

Author: Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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