GREENFIELD — She first learned about it three decades ago: a team of volunteers, all with varying skills and decorating expertise, descends upon the White House each year to decorate for Christmas.
A floral designer by trade, Linda Vodney dreamed of being part of the group one day. When she finally decided to send her application in early this year, she knew the chances were one in a million.
But she marked her calendar just in case. A good choice, it turns out.
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Vodney was one of about 100 people from across the country who were chosen to help decorate the White House for the 2016 holiday season.
The Greenfield resident traveled to Washington, D.C., the week of Thanksgiving and spent two days crafting and preparing ornaments and other decorations before being welcomed inside the White House for two days of decorating and setup. On the fifth day of the visit, she attended a lavish dinner hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.
Vodney said she was sworn to secrecy until the decorations were officially revealed to the public last week. As soon as it was OK to tell people of her trip, she posted photographs on her website of the decorations she helped create — including a wreath of her own design that now hangs inside “The People’s House.”
Vodney studied horticulture at Vincennes University. Before opening her own business two years ago, she spent much of her 30-year career managing floral shops in the area. Somewhere along the way, she learned about the White House decorating program and added it to her bucket list, she said.
Each time she thought to apply, the timing never seemed right. But she made a promise to herself to take chances in 2016, and when the application window opened in April, she went for it. For months after applying, she waited and wondered, paying close attention to her email inbox in the fall, knowing the deadline was drawing ever closer.
It was late October when she got the news. She screamed with joy, calling her sons over to the computer to make sure she was reading the acceptance note correctly.
“I just remember shouting, ‘I think it says I’m going to the White House,’” she recalled with a laugh this week. “Everybody was just shocked.”
So, the whole family packed their bags and left town on Thanksgiving Day. Steve Vodney, Linda Vodney’s husband, decided he and his sons, 18-year-old Aaron and 22-year-old Chris, would tag along, as well, and visit all the tourist attractions in town while his wife was crafting with the other volunteers, he said.
Ninety-two people from 37 states and Puerto Rico came to help decorate, Linda Vodney said. They spent two days in a warehouse-like room, hot glue guns and ribbons in hand, assembling the extravagant decorations that now hang in every room of the White House, including the West Wing.
There is a deep tradition that governs the holiday décor at the White House each year, according to The White House Historical Association. The official White House Christmas tree is always a fir tree that’s placed in the Blue Room. All other rooms are assigned a theme by the current first lady; they typically reflects a cause or mission she holds dear — a ritual first started by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961.
First Lady Michelle Obama chose to decorate the Green and Red rooms of the White House, for example, to represent “A gift of good health,” paying homage to her own Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity, according a news release from the White House.
Fruits were incorporated into the decorations in the room to represent healthy eating, the press release states: wreaths of lemons and garlands of limes are on display in the Green Room while oranges, apples and pomegranates accompany the traditional greenery that hangs in the Red Room.
Much of the décor was preplanned by the White House Social Secretary and a team from Rafanelli Events, a New York-based event planning company, so the volunteers were following instruction brochures handed out by the organizers, Vodney said.
But every so often, if an organizer realized a volunteer had a natural flair for decorating, they’d be allowed to design a decoration of their own, Vodney said. She was given the chance to design a Christmas wreath that hangs at the top of a visitors’ stairway, she said.
Back home in Hancock County, the excitement of her trip has yet to wear off.
Vodney admits the decorations she puts up in her own home for her family’s Christmas celebrations will seem a bit lackluster when compared with what she saw in Washington, D.C.
But she won’t soon forget the way she felt seeing her own floral creation hang in one of the world’s most prominent buildings.
“That was really the cherry on top of everything,” Linda Vodney said.