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Armed with hydrangeas, Cedar Rapids women help bring Christmas to life at Iowa governor's residence

Terrace Hill holiday decorations draw praise from Kim Reynolds herself

Mary Cherrier, Jana Nassif, Cheri Bolden and Pam Morris (left to right) pose with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (center) at Ter
Mary Cherrier, Jana Nassif, Cheri Bolden and Pam Morris (left to right) pose with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (center) at Terrace Hill in Des Moines. Cherrier, Nassif, Bolden and Morris used hydrangeas grown on the grounds to decorate one of four Christmas trees on display this year at the governor’s residence in Des Moines. (Contributed by Mary Cherrier)
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Holiday decorations at Terrace Hill — the historic Iowa governor’s residence in Des Moines — are an annual tradition enjoyed by hundreds if not thousands of Iowans.

This year a quartet of women with Cedar Rapids ties played a special role, decorating a 12-foot-tall Fraser fir with hydrangeas grown on the property grounds, garnering many oohs and ahhs.

“It is a natural looking tree with all the hydrangeas,” said Mary Cherrier, who coordinated the effort. “It has a very Victorian look that fits with the era of the mansion. It looks very elegant.”

The tree and other holiday decorations are expected to remain on display until Jan. 2. The mansion offers tours Tuesdays through Saturdays, March through December, at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children. The mansion is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Cherrier lived in Cedar Rapids for more than 20 years, including a stint in sales at The Gazette. She had been volunteering at Terrace Hill, which turned 150 this year, for about a year since moving back to Iowa from Colorado. She was working in the gift shop when staff asked for help decorating the mansion for Christmas.

“I said I would, and if they need any more help, I have friends from Cedar Rapids who are very creative and talented,” Cherrier said, referring to Jana Nassif, Cheri Bolden and Pam Morris.

The first and second floor of the mansion are 6,000 square feet each, so extra hands are needed, said Diane Becker, the Terrace Hill administrator. Some 30 people volunteered to decorate this year so each room has something festive. Terrace Hill has four separate Christmas trees on display, including a red pine in the “sitting room” decorated by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ family.

The Cedar Rapids women decorated the hydrangea tree the week before Thanksgiving.

They entered the reception room, which is the main room to the left upon entering the residence, to find a table of ornaments and ribbons, pine cones, and “buckets and buckets and buckets” of dried, delicate hydrangeas in shades of green, pink, burgundy and ivory, Cherrier said.

A florist suggested drying out hydrangeas from the ample bushes around the estate and using them for holiday decorations. Toward the end of summer, the flowers were cut and dried in the upstairs of the carriage house.

“We just went in there and were told we could do whatever we wanted to and so we did and had a great time,” said Morris, of Cedar Rapids. “We all love to decorate, and we put our minds together and came up with a plan and it turned out beautifully, I thought.”

It took about three hours to decorate, and they incorporated the theme on the mantel, chandelier and end tables.

“They gave us a blank canvas and you have to decide where to put everything,” Cherrier said, noting the natural look, incorporation of real flowers, and how well the decorations blended with the room. “It was a nice creative challenge.”

Becker said the homegrown hydrangeas made it “special to us.”

“They are very skilled, so enthusiastic and lovely women,” Becker said. “It was so much fun. It made such a difference in our day.”

Perhaps none have been more impressed than the governor herself. Reynolds, at a recent news conference, said she thought the tree was lovely, and she’s going to give the women two rooms to decorate next year.

“When I saw the boxes of hydrangeas, my first thought was, ‘What did we pay for those?’ But we grew them on the grounds.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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