November 2015

For senior living resident, Topton's Putz was a family affair

Ann Henry with the Putz at The Lutheran Home at Topton

Ann Henry not only has a history with The Lutheran Home at Topton, but she’s also part of it.

Recently, the resident of The Lutheran Home toured the Putz housed in Old Main on the senior living community campus grounds with the Rev. Colleen Kristula, village chaplain. It was not the first time Mrs. Henry had viewed the Putz—a miniature train layout and nativity scene.

Her grandmother, Mrs. Ida Henry, was responsible for its creation.

In fact, Ann Henry remembers watching with amazement as her grandmother sewed the silk and velvet of the Three Wise Men’s clothes, recalling that her grandmother was at the same time watching Ann’s reactions as her grandmother worked. “The nativity is my favorite scene,” she says, “and I remember my grandmother spending time sitting at her desk creating the figures. She was very clever.”

Mrs. Henry was the spouse of Dr. J.O. Henry, superintendent of the institution when it served as a home for children. In her role, Mrs. Henry served as matron, caring along with her husband for the home’s many children. The Henrys served the home from 1909 to 1945 and it was in 1940 that home also began serving older persons, the beginning of its role today as a Diakon senior living community.

The Putz—open to the public each holiday season as well to special group tours at other times—contains the traditional elements of a nativity scene, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds and wise men, angels and stars, in one area and a 560-square-foot display of trains and miniature scenes lovingly crafted by Ida Henry in another.

Putz, which is pronounced just like the word “puts,” means “to brighten.” Ida Henry made a new scene each year as her Christmas present to the children living at the home. “She was quite a woman,” says Ann Henry of her grandmother.

Ann’s favorite story of the Putz involves the way in which her grandmother designed the miniature Radio City Music Hall, traveling all the way to New York City where she was welcomed backstage and learned tips from the stage hands, who Ann says, were always ready to help, encouraged, she believes, by the homemade caramels Ida brought with her.

In turn, the stage personnel traveled from New York City to view her handiwork.  

“It was so much fun to come here the Saturday before Christmas, with all of my cousins, share gifts and dinner together. We all got along,” Ann says of her frequent visits to Topton as a child. In fact, she says, their pictures are displayed inside the Putz’s miniature church, which is complete with stained-glass windows and a bride and groom exiting.  

When Ann’s mother fell ill, Ann spent even more time with her grandparents and recalls having been drafted to be in summer productions on the stage at Topton. “I always made the people laugh,” she smiles.

“My grandfather was a wonderful man, too, although both of them were quite strict,” says Ann Henry. “They ran a tight ship and we had to behave. But you have to remember that they had a great responsibility for all those children.”  

Despite those strictures, Ann recalls that she and her cousins Frank and Nancy would sneak all the way to the top of the clock tower in Old Main, a point from which they could see for miles in every direction, toward Allentown, Reading, and the Blue Mountains.  

Moreover, she says, she loved to play with the orphaned children living at the home. “It made me sad to leave them,” she says today. “I have a soft heart.”

It has been “very touching,” she says, to return to the place where she spent time visiting her grandparents as a child and to see the Putz again. “This place amazes me every day. I’m glad to be back where people remember [my grandparents], with people I knew back then.”  

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