Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Who would have thought there is a huge Santa Claus collection just outside of Eustis, Nebraska? I had heard about it for years but had not seen it. I will tell you-it is a sight to behold! The spirit of Christmas 365 days out of the year-after having made it through 2020 it is a thought that sounds warm and comforting.
Nancy Laier is one of the people that make Eustis-and dare I say all American small towns-what they are. She was born and raised in Mullen, lived in North Platte and moved to the Eustis area in 1982. The first time I met Nancy Laier aka The Santa Claus Lady we were attending the annual Craft Fair as a vendor a few years ago. Nancy was involved in helping with the setup and in talking to her initially I knew she was a spirited, motivated and unique individual. In addition to being a horsewoman in her early 80’s she is also a known sewer, cabbage grower and sauerkraut maker. Her canned ‘kraut is second to none-if you can snag some consider yourself lucky. As a plug for our little town the Craft Fair is held annually the first Saturday in November so folks mark those calendars…you can get Nancy’s sauerkraut there too!
We moved our business Rustic Milling & Craft to the small town of Eustis population 362 in 2020 and we became part of the community. During the time we were there I talked to Nancy on different occasions and heard more about her collection. As a writer and a photographer I knew it was something that I wanted to document. In many ways she is what I think we all aspire to be as we grow older-someone who is caring, independent, youthful and her own person who lives life on her own terms.
When you drive up to her home you see various Santa figures greeting you as you come down the driveway. If you look to the left you will see where the cabbages are grown. As you walk into her home you are immediately are aware of a sea of red and white. The cupboards in the kitchen are decorated with festive Christmas cards and the counter is home to many Santa figures of all shapes and sizes. Some are functional and some are decorations. As you look closer each Santa is different and doing his own thing. As you look into the living room some are standing, sitting, dancing, riding motorcycles, hang gliding, parachuting, flying an airplane, this list goes on and on. As Nancy starts the tour, she turns on some of the battery-operated Santa figures and they sing and dance for you. The amount of Santa and Christmas in one place is a sight to see-I have never seen anything like it.
Nancy said the collection began around 1982 when she moved to the area. She put her son’s name in a drawing for a Santa from Pizza Hut. Low and behold he won. After he went off on his own, she asked him if he wanted the Santa and he told her to keep it there. That is how it began. Nancy said a TV reporter estimated she had 9,000 Santa figures and that was 4 or 5 years ago. Her oldest is from the early 1800’s. She has no idea how many she has as people give her Santas and the collection keeps growing. As a former teacher who taught art, she also has had a hand in creating some of her Santa works of art from unique materials-turtle shell, wasp nest, silica, keys, gourds, “road apples” and more!
Nancy is a natural collector and has smaller collections of cardinals, Hummel, horses and dolls. In her Santa collection she does not have duplicates. Except for one that is a bubble blowing Santa. He sometimes works and sometimes does not so she got another one of him. The original one started occasionally working and now there are two. They were both going when I was there-lots of bubbles!
The tour continues through each room in the house. Every room is decorated with care and precision. The collection is curated perfectly. The Santa figures are classified by what they are doing and if they are a particular type of Santa. There is a room for hunting, fishing and outdoor activity Santa. There is a space for Santa figures that are riding horses in another smaller collection that Nancy has-horses and carousel horses. The hallway is adorned with Santa figures in smaller collection cases. On every wall there is a collection case and each box in the case is filled with Christmas joy. Nancy also quilted the Christmas quilts on the beds.
The tour continues into the basement. As you go down the stairs you are met with a crocheted sign in German that says Merry Christmas. Nancy is proud of her German heritage and has been to Germany to visit. In the basement there is a big map of Germany and I was shown the area that her family came from. Eustis as a whole has many people that have roots in Germany.
Looking up in the basement you see something that is a bit surprising. A Santa boot that is coming through the ceiling! He is everywhere in the basement and looking across the rooms you can see there are mini collections in the massive collection. There is a Santa salt and pepper shaker collection, collection of cowboy Santa, Nebraska Cornhusker Santa, outdoor activity Santa and framed puzzles with Santa. Each puzzle has a story of the person who put it together. Nancy told the stories about her friends and how the puzzles were a tie to her and the person who put it together. From the first time you talk to Nancy you know how important her family and friends are to her.
As you move to the next room you see a collect of larger Santa figures some who sing and dance. And yes, there are some more naughty type ones there that show off their Christmas skivvies and lingerie…yes, you read that right. Never seen that before.
Just off of this room is the original Santa Claus room. This is where the collection started before it spilled over and started to fill the whole house. In this room you see miniature Santa on Deutsche Marks, Coke collection of Santa, Santa made from railroad spikes and other found objects. Every Santa has a story and you can tell Nancy enjoys the storytelling.
I asked Nancy which Santa was her favorite. She said it was one that she rescued from Hobby Lobby. He was broken and they were going to throw him away. She asked if she could have it and got permission from the manager to buy it. She bought the pieces and put him back together again. He looks as though nothing had happened to him.
While I was with Nancy, I could not help but ask her about what advice she would give the younger generation. She said that it was to work hard and to know that nothing is given to you. She said people do not work hard like they used to.
I asked Nancy if she had a plan for her collection for after she was gone. She said that she would like to keep it together and have a Santa museum set up in Eustis so people could come and see it. She said she did not know if anyone would do it but that would be her wish for her collection.
Nancy is gracious enough to allow people into her home and she gives tours. This year with COVID-19 numbers have been down and she has given 15-20 tours. In past years she has given up to 300 tours a year. She has given tours to individuals, small groups, ladies groups and schools. The collection on the top floor is taken down February 1st but the basement display is kept up year around.
If you would like to have a tour of this amazing collection contact Nancy on her cell phone at (308) 325-4070 or at her home number (308) 486-4551. She can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contract her prior to coming out. The address is 41698 Road 748, Eustis NE 69028.