Chester Plecha is a self-proclaimed collector of many things.
It's not his assemblage of 300 knives that draws him attention. Nor is it his 425 die-cast NASCAR replicas, 300 Anheuser Busch beer steins or the 300 John Deere tractors that he shares with his girlfriend, Cindy Gilbert.
It is Plecha's tremendous display of holiday spirit that residents want to see spread on display tables on the sun porch of the continuing-care retirement community Brandon Wilde, where he is a maintenance technician.
"He is just a tremendous holiday person," said Jennie Dodd, administrative assistant to Brandon Wilde's president.
For the third year, Plecha, 39, donated an entire day meticulously placing all 2,500 pieces of his Fontanini Bethlehem Village miniatures.
"Every piece is special," Plecha said. "Each piece has sentimental value."
The weekend before Thanksgiving, Plecha spent more than 12 hours setting up the village of miniatures, which includes a market, camel sales lot, living quarters, barnyards and all types of people and animals. Plecha is so detail-oriented, he placed water urns near wells and food miniatures near dining tents.
"I love doing it," Plecha said of the day he locked himself in the room to set it all up. "(The residents) were all glued to the glass to see what I brought in new this year."
The display varies each year to incorporate new pieces, he said.
"This is the true meaning of Christmas," Plecha said surveying the Nativity collection covering more than two 8-foot tables.
Plecha began his holiday miniature collection with bell-ringing mice from Montgomery Ward in 1978. Every year, he buys or receives two or three new pieces as gifts.
Thousands of dollars have gone into the collection, which can be ordered from the company or purchased at Fat Man's Forest. Small animals can cost about $3.50 with larger camels up to $12. Buildings begin at $80. Last year's new release - tents - cost $125 each, Plecha said.
Side jobs pay for all his Christmas decorations, which cover his home, yard and have even spread to other facilities.
More than 40 of Plecha's animated figures are on display at Elmcroft Assisted Living on Furys Ferry Road.
Plecha said he shares his collection "just to see the enjoyment" of those who see it, especially residents in wheelchairs who do not go outside the facility often.
"He is just sharing what he has," Dodd said. "He does it on his own time. He comes out after hours and sets it up and hauls everything in. The residents love it. They can't stay out of the room. It is quite a lot to see. It is a wonderful selfless gift."
Some residents even requested to eat Thanksgiving dinner on the sun porch for the scenery.
Others wrote thank-you letters and created a scrap book for Plecha, as well as nominating him for the 2003 Loyd Lewis Excellence in Practice Award. It honors dedicated staff of retirement organizations.
Plecha was one of 10 finalists for the award out of 140 nationwide.
Residents began taking bus trips to Plecha's Bridlewood home to see his tremendous display of Christmas decorations and Halloween arrangements, including the 8-foot spider on the roof.
"I love doing it," Plecha said. "I love Christmas, and I refuse to grow up."
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