FLINT, MI – The Heddys moved into their 12,000 square foot home on Halloween night more than two decades ago. Mr. Heddy describes it as a little bit creepy. Mrs. Heddy describes it as magical.
They both agreed, however, that it was a wonderful place to call “home.”
Over the past 20 years, Rosanne and Steve Heddy have opened their home each year, hosting thousands of guests to share in the festivities, creating hundreds of unique Christmas tree displays, and becoming a destination for annual holiday giving.
“When I got this house, I wanted to do it right. Decorate it and show it off,” Mr. Heddy says, but it took a trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina years after moving in to really tip the scales. “I thought, ‘We can do this.’ It was so darn pretty.”
“Steve used to tease me that I had too many trees. After we went to the Biltmore he said, ‘I think we need more trees,’” laughs Mrs. Heddy.
Today, the Heddys have 21 trees on display in their home (and more still in storage). Their collection has grown throughout the years as their display has become more and more impressive. A couple weeks before having their very first Christmas party in their then-new home, they had attended a holiday party where everyone brought a donation for Toys for Tots.
Inspired by the generosity of the holiday party, they decided to take up their own donations. They invited everyone they knew and asked each person to bring a toy. To their surprise, everyone they invited showed up.
“The two Marines came into the living room and thought they were going to take a couple sacks of toys away,” laughs Mr. Heddy. The guests had filled the living room.
“They (the Marines) had to bring a couple of trucks to get it out of here. I thought, ‘This was really successful. Let’s do it for a non-profit.’”
Together with their friends and the support of the Flint community, the Heddys have raised more than $300,000 for local charities.
A specific nonprofit is selected every year, typically focusing on children and families in need. Past recipients include the YWCA Safe House, Weiss Child Advocacy Center, Toys for Tots, Whaley Children’s Center and the Hurley Foundation. The past two years, the funds raised have gone to the Steve and Rosanne Heddy Scholarship Endowment at Mott Community College, which benefits students who are custodial parents.
The open house is for many in Flint, the official start of the holiday season. Each year, they host approximately 300 guests with 40 of their friends helping host. Their friends help with everything from cleaning tables, taking jackets and answering the door. Each host also brings a dish for everyone to enjoy. “The food is absolutely the best you can get because the hosts are so proud to bring it,” Mr. Heddy says.
Each year, the Heddys begin their decorating as early as Halloween. “The tough thing for me is getting them out of the attic. It’s three flights of stairs,” Mr. Heddy, a former marathoner, says. “Some of them barely fit through the doorway.”
By the time Thanksgiving comes around, many of the trees are in place and ready for decoration. The majority of the work is done on the following, long weekend. “We bring out the radio and put on some CD’s and kinda have some fun with it,” smiles Mrs. Heddy.
“We have a lot of fun with our trees. Ours are more whimsical,” Mrs. Heddy says. “We change them all the time.” The whimsical trees include a wine tree, beer tree, 1950s-style antique tree laden with silver tinsel, a tree made from a mannequin bodice, and a playroom tree, with an unfortunate inverted Santa Claus, hopelessly stuck in the top of the tree.
However, they also have trees of significance. A portrait tree, gleaming with small ornaments containing photos of friends and family. A tree draped with 2,000 blue ribbons to call attention to the number of reported incidents of child abuse in the county for the year it was decorated. A small, white tree, a gift, for their 50th wedding anniversary. A miniature tree decorated with jewelry as a memorial for a passed loved one.
Roseanne and Steve Heddy are already planning next year’s trees and hope to make each year more successful than the last. Last year’s party garnered $19,500 in donations, their largest collection yet. Their annual party is a physical manifestation of the Christmas Spirit, not only bringing cheer and joy to those attending, but to all of those benefitting from the overwhelming generosity of the gathering.
“It’s the magic of Christmas. The magic of the season,” Mrs. Heddy says with a smile.