People & Places

Williamsburg farmer displays live nativity scene with exotic animals to 'lift spirits'

Animals inhabit a live nativity scene at the farm of Dennis Oliver in rural Williamsburg, Iowa, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. The scene features a camel, goats, alpacas and llamas and a donkey. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Animals inhabit a live nativity scene at the farm of Dennis Oliver in rural Williamsburg, Iowa, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. The scene features a camel, goats, alpacas and llamas and a donkey. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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WILLIAMSBURG — It’s that time of year when folks come from all over Iowa County and beyond to see a live nativity scene, complete with Sandman the camel, Poncho the burro and a few other exotic animals, who may not have been in Bethlehem that night, but are in this farmer’s scene.

Dennis Oliver, of Bellevue Farms located south of Williamsburg, who raises quarter horses and sheep along with exotic animals, sets up the Nativity every five years or so. His last one was in 2009 and it’s back by popular demand for the rest of December to celebrate the holiday and “to lift people’s spirits,” as Oliver likes to put it.

“Mary, Joseph and Jesus are mannequins,” Oliver is quick to point out. “But would you believe, people have volunteered to be those. I haven’t taken them up. It would be cold.”

Oliver has also made provisions to keep the animals warm by placing the manger in a heated Amish-built barn, while 60 stacked corn bales surround the barn to act as a windbreaker. There are also heated water troughs and heat lamps in the fenced-in area, where the animals stay for 24 hours a day throughout the month.

Taffy and Fudge the alpacas, along with the little goats who jump on their backs, and the Jacob sheep with two pairs of horns — facing forward and backward — seem friendly, but they remain secured behind the corral pens for safety. They are not intended to be petted, Oliver said.

Folks shouldn’t come over the property fence to touch the animals. “They can see the Nativity from the road — that’s how it’s set up,” Oliver added.

Live nativity location

The scene is visible from M Avenue or Highway V66 and is illuminated 24 hours a day throughout the month.

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Oliver has set up the Nativity for the last 30 years but only every five years or so because “it’s so much work.”

Chuck Martin, a neighbor, said it took several days to move the heavy corn bales to the scene and position them. He volunteered to help Oliver with the bales, pens and heated troughs.

“We use corn bales because the animals would try to eat hay bales,” Martin pointed out.

Sleet the llama and Sandman could probably lean over the pens and eat their way out if it was hay and not for the corral pens.

Oliver said he continues to set up the Nativity because he had so many comments over the years about people visiting from Chicago to see relatives in Williamsburg would see the scene and then want to bring other spectators to see it.

“I also had a call from a woman who goes to work at 3 a.m. and she said she enjoyed seeing it because her drive is usually dark and desolate,” Oliver said. “Others called me and thanked me for reminding people of the ‘reason for the season.’ ” 

“There’s nothing commercial about it,” he added. “It’s free. I just want to bring some joy to people.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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