Stepping into Bill and Sue Arnold’s Maumelle home not far from the banks of the Arkansas River visitors are overwhelmed with one thought — Mrs. Santa Claus has retired and is living in Maumelle.
Visitors are greeted with more than 3,000 Christmas ornaments, 13 standard size Christmas trees and two 9 ½ foot trees and one six-foot tree along with decorations held off-season in 88 storage bins that takes six weeks to put up each year, starting on October 1st.
There is not another home in Maumelle that undergoes such a Christmas transformation. Every single room, including bathrooms are decorated for the holiday.
Sue said most visitors are impressed but ask her whom she hired to do the job.
Husband Bill quickly answers that question explaining that his wife does it all herself, except for his help reaching the tall spaces.
Why go to all the trouble?
Sue explains that since their retirement in Maumelle in 2005 she’s gradually increased her decorating that started with her grandmother’s 1880s era dolls.
It’s hard to comprehend the amount of decorations much less the quality without a personal visit.
Every single ornament is not only hung but also securely tied to every tree or wreath by fishing line that makes it simpler to take down with a pair of scissors, Sue said. She also noted every decoration is redone each year. Every single ornament is removed, individually wrapped and packaged away for next year.
To get an idea how extensive the transformation is all you have to consider is the guest’s bathroom that is decorated in a frog theme. Frogs and Christmas decorations hang from every corner. The sink area has different sized frogs and the bathtub was transformed into a foggy swamp with huge stuffed frogs frolicking all around.
There are the traditional holiday displays but there are also some of the most unusual decorations from anywhere.
The huge collection is the result of a lifetime of travel for both Bill and Sue.
Sue said everywhere they travel they usually bring back a doll or decoration. One of her biggest collection is of Russian made dolls the couple collected from visits to several European countries, Sue said.
Sue is from Cleveland, Ohio and Bill is from Butte, Montana and the story about how they ended up in Maumelle is unusual but also very similar to how most retirees end up here.
Bill was an Air Force Lt. Colonel and pilot who had been stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in the 1980s. It was during that visit that he meet Sue, an educator doing training under contract for the Air Force.
Their marriage, the second for both, started here and when it came time to retire they choose Maumelle, a city they both learned to love in the 1980s.
Sue said they loved the quiet community atmosphere of Maumelle while nearby Little Rock was a fairly large city which offered amenities normally only found in most big cities.
Bill said it was the best decision they both made and they enjoy the choice every day. After logging most of his military flying time at the controls of a gigantic C-5 cargo jet during his 25 years of military service, Bill said he still flies about twice a month in a smaller private plane he co-owns with friends.
Although the home decorating takes six weeks to install, it only takes about three weeks to take down. Sue notes she starts from scratch each year. None of the many wreaths are stored that way but torn down ready to be rebuilt in a different fashion next year.
“I start all over each year,” Sue said. “Every decoration is built from scratch by hand.”
She also said many guests assume she chooses a theme and hires someone to decorate.
The joy is doing it herself, she said. And after the six weeks of decorating, she spends another few weeks baking cookies and other goodies that make up the goodie bags she gives each guest.
Bill has a 51-year-old son from a previous marriage but Sue said she has no children.
“This is my baby,” she said.
And it’s obvious the showcase gives her much joy and satisfaction during the holiday season.
Each year the Arnolds open up their home for the Christmas Holidays. In addition to a few personal groups of friends, the couple hosts an annual Christmas party to fellow worshippers at St. Mark’s in Little Rock.
Almost every visit generates another, Bill said. Guests ask if they can bring their family and friends back to see this tribute to the spirit of Christmas.
And in that tradition, Bill said all they ask for is a little advance notice because it takes about thirty minutes just to turn on all the lights.
Every guest is sent on their way with a goodie box of cookies, mints, candy and other holiday treats, most of whom hand baked by Sue.
Like most homes in the neighborhood that borders on the Arkansas River, the outside of the home is lighted for the season but a glance at those lights in no way hints at what lies inside the home and what a seasonal winter wonderland awaits guests.
Sue who holds a Doctorate in education also has earned a similar highest designation in entertaining guests. It’s also obvious that Dr. Sue Arnold ought to be known as Maumelle’s Mrs. Claus.