It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care thanks to the generosity of Mark Wilken, former owner of Hollyberry, a holiday store in Oklahoma. Mark donated his entire store inventory to Chicago Scots.
It’s a story of goodwill shared between childhood friends, Nancy LeNoble Strolle and Mark Wilken, who had not spoken for decades but reconnected on a COVID-19 Zoom call with friends from a church they attended as children.
During that call, Nancy, a member of Chicago Scots Board of Governors, told everyone she had just finished decorating the Scotland tree for the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas around the World exhibit. Nancy’s mother, Pat Le Noble, started the tradition in 1963 and Nancy has not missed a year since. Mark remembered fondly being invited to sing Christmas carols as part of the performance for Great Britain at MSI in 1968 when Pat was emcee.
That memory inspired Mark to call Nancy the next day with a special request. He and his business partner had just closed their Christmas gift store in Owasso, OK in June and he wondered if Chicago Scots could use a donation of “some Christmas items”.
It turns out “some” meant a storage locker with over 200 boxes of every type of Christmas decoration imaginable. For a 175-year-old charity with no budget for new holiday decorations, a storage locker filled with lights, trees, ornaments and ribbons was a wonderful windfall. But if there was no budget for decorations there was also no budget for shipping – the Scots would have to get creative.
That’s when Operation Christmas began. Nancy asked for ideas and help from fellow members of the Board of Governors of Chicago Scots, friends of Chicago Scots including former Highland Games Manager Joe Feehan, Thistle and Heather Highland dance families and the church Zoom group.
Nancy quickly raised $2,000 in support to bring Operation Christmas home. Within days, a truck and loading crew had been sourced at the right price and the Hollyberry treasures were on their way to their new home at Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care.
The Friday before Thanksgiving, Operation Christmas arrived at Caledonia Senior Living with a bagpipe salute and news cameras to cover the feel-good story. It isn’t every day an elder care community receives Santa’s workshop on their doorstep. It took two hours to unload the truck.
“It is hard to express the JOY that this donation has brought to so many during this unusual year…Never underestimate the power of community and lifetime friendships and connections.” – Nancy Strolle
Over the next several weeks, Caledonia Senior Living underwent a magical holiday transformation that would not have been possible except for Mark’s thoughtful donation. The real happy ending is reflected in the smiling faces of our residents and staff. Mark’s donation lifted our spirits at a time when we needed it most.
“I’ve had so much fun this past week working my way through the Christmas items, and I know I expressed out loud many “oohs and aahs” as the multitude of boxes were opened to reveal the treasures inside…Christmas came early to Caledonia Senior Living,” said Nancy.
Believe it or not, there is even a tree skirt made of kilts! We can’t wait until we are able to open the doors to rejoin families and friends. Until then may the blessings of the season to you joyful.
Special Thanks to Hollyberry & Company
Mark and Leigh Wilken and Holly King, Owners
Operation Christmas Supporters
Chicago Scots Volunteers