You don’t have to guess what time of year it is at Terry and Norma Bokowski’s house.
Festively decorated trees, delicate Nativity sets and angels, merry Santas, quaint old-time churches and smiling snowmen adorn their Fremont home.
Bokowski estimates he has 70 trees, mostly small, but which also include 14, 6-foot trees. There are 120 Nativity scenes and ornaments and 25 churches.
The Bokowskis have been decking the halls of their home for a long time.
“We’ve done it for 49 years and it (the decorating) grows every year,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Bokowskis hosted an open house, attended by more than 50 people.
“That was really crowded,” Bokowski said, smiling.
Why do all this?
“I just love Christmas — the families getting together,” he said. “And I’ve always liked decorating.”
Bokowski’s decorative endeavors probably began when he was 9 years old. That’s when he made his first Nativity scene from a cylindrical, cardboard Quaker Oats container. The scene included Mary and Joseph with cloth garments.
“Sadly, I don’t have it anymore, but I’ve got my grandmother’s Nativity,” he said.
He also still has the original box she packed it in — a cardboard turkey box with a lid — back when the birds came in boxes.
Bokowski, who said he’s always had artistic interests, did some decorating when he was young.
From 1964-68, he worked for Greens Florist, where he learned how to design floral arrangements. He won several trophies for his work.
Bokowski met his future wife when he came to her downtown Fremont ceramics shop to learn the craft and began helping out in her store.
They married in 1968.
That year, they gave three, large-size figures of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus to their church, First United Methodist.
One year, Bokowski bought a tiny Nativity from a missionary who came to speak at the church.
Carved out of stone, the tiny Nativity is only about an inch tall. It’s his smallest Nativity. He’s also collected wooden, glass and ceramic Nativity sets.
Bokowski has collected many other Christmas-related items, too, including lots of trees — some of which reflect the couple’s interests or times in their lives.
A patriotic tree in their kitchen features ornaments from the White House Association and is decked out in red, white and blue. Nearby is a tree with gingerbread ornaments.
In the living room, the couple has a “memory tree” with ornaments featuring the photographs of loved ones they’ve lost throughout the years. That tree is near a display of family wedding photos.
The room also has a tree with white, acrylic roses that light up.
Other trees have specific themes, like one adorned with pink ribbons and ornaments from when she had breast cancer in 2008.
Another tree features cloth, metal and wooden angel ornaments.
“She collects angels and she started with me,” Bokowski said, smiling.
Football fans might cheer the Husker tree, decorated with birch, large pine cones and ornaments.
Cowboys might take a liking to a horseshoe tree welded together by a 96-year-old man, while folks with a Swedish heritage might think a tree decorated with the traditional straw ornaments is underbar (wonderful).
A display of small, old-time churches — including a lighted one made of stained glass — can bring a wave of nostalgia to some guests.
Sleds, snowflakes and nutcrackers add to festive atmosphere.
It takes Bokowski between four and five days to decorate, so he starts in November. His wife helps him take down the decorations in mid-January.
Before long, Bokowski will start decorating for Valentine’s Day. And while he doesn’t decorate as much for that holiday, he adds that he and Norma got engaged that day.
The couple, who have two sons and five grandchildren, plan to continue their holiday decorating tradition for as long as they can.
“It gets you in the spirit,” he said.
Andrew Lorenz spends a hefty portion of every day building relationships with his clientele.
Lorenz, a personal trainer and employee of Fremont’s Max Nutrition, has trained people who are young, old, and pretty much everybody in-between. But in January 2016, the demographic of his group training sessions started changing.
Lorenz started communicating with six Latina women – all friends – who were interested in becoming more physically fit. So he started training these six women at The PAD, and soon, the numbers started multiplying.
Six became 12, and in a short period of time, 28 women were attending his group fitness classes; held three times weekly in the morning and three times weekly in the evening. Of these attendees, Lorenz said that 24 were Latina women.
It became such a crowd that Lorenz had to split up the group into multiple classes.
“It got to the point where I had to hire an intern from Midland who actually spoke Spanish, because in the beginning one-third of the women didn’t speak any English at all,” Lorenz said following a Wednesday evening workout at The PAD. “It was nice though, because the girls who did speak English would translate for some of the other gals, and at this point, we have a lot of gals who have been coming since the very beginning.”
One attendee making massive strides in terms of accomplishing her personal goals is Maria Calderon. Calderon, a mother of three, said that she attends Lorenz’ class typically at least two times weekly. It’s an outlet for her to recharge her battery, and have a little bit of time to herself. She’s also lost 50 pounds since joining 11 months ago.
The fitness classes, she said, provide a little bit of something for all of the women in attendance.
“Our group started off really small, and now it’s so nice seeing more Latina women coming together,” Calderon said. “Most Latinos really don’t have a good place to go for distraction, or a place they can feel really comfortable in. So coming here, listening to music and working out helps us loosen up and talk about our lives, our daily struggles and things like that. It really does make us all closer.”
On Wednesday evening, 20 people were active inside of The PAD; running, lifting, slamming ropes into the ground, and having fun while doing it.
Lorenz made it crystal clear that there’s no magical rule that says you have to be a Latina woman to attend his classes. People off all backgrounds, races, upbringings and physical fitness levels attend weekly.
“I don’t care what the color of your skin is, I just care if you are doing your squats right and if you are getting all your reps in,” he said. “Because if you aren’t getting all your reps in you are only cheating yourself.”
One of the draws of the classes, which generally last approximately an hour, is that they are high-tempo and affordable. Those in attendance burn fat, not a hole in their wallets.
“There’s no contracts or anything like that, you show up, you pay $5 and we get to work,” he said. “I don’t even track anybody down, everyone has been really good about it. If someone doesn’t pay me for a few times they always get me back … But for me it isn’t really even about the money, as long as I can pay my rent and do all that fun stuff and make a living doing it; that’s all I really want.”
While most of the attendees and Lorenz are well acclimated now, the language barrier dividing the instructor from his clients initially was a challenge, but as with most challenges, there was a constructive way around it.
“I demonstrated a lot of things – and it’s gotten way easier because we have gotten to know each other,” he said. “I get cursed out a lot in a language I don’t know, but I always try to avoid the dirty words (he joked). But it’s awesome, they have a huge impact on me every time we meet, probably a lot more than they know.”
And he’s had a huge impact on them, too. Several women are down as much as 30 pounds, and everybody who regularly attends is making meaningful strides with their personal fitness.
“He’s just awesome, he just makes us workout hard and do our best, and keep coming back,” Mayra Alarcon said of Lorenz. “And we all want to come back every time … Most of us know each other from outside of here, and it’s just awesome to hangout, workout and push each other.”
And they are pushed – hard. People were sweating, panting and down on their knees following a rigorous cycle of circuit training. But they were doing it with some of the people they are closest with, which makes it welcomed misery.
“Every day we get done here we break down on Fit Family, sometimes we break it down on Familia Saludable, which means Family Fitness in Spanish,” Lorenz said. “It’s just a whole lot of fun, and it’s changed me for the better and really opened my mind. You hear a lot of ignorant things out there from people, and a lot of people have stereotypes about people and they’ve never even interacted with these people. So I think people always need to keep their mind open.”
If you’re making a New Year’s resolution, you might want to consider something a little different.
“A part of starting the New Year is looking at how we can help out our neighbors and friends in different ways,” said Jan Rise, administrative services director for the Fremont Department of Utilities.
Paying utilities is a basic need for most people and some local residents need assistance.
Utility customers can help others in paying their bills through the DU’s Care & Share program.
“We have been hearing from families who have experienced medical problems or unemployment and they need some temporary assistance for paying utility bills,” Rise said.
In such cases, they are referred to the Fremont Family Coalition in the Fremont Area United Way office. Trained individuals can work with those in need so they receive a hand up and not a handout.
Care & Share funds are administered by the Fremont Family Coalition.
“We have a very meaningful relationship with the Fremont Family Coalition by which funds that are donated directly to the Utility through the Care and Share program are combined with funds from other charitable sources to provide utility bill payments in emergency situations,” Rise said. “A part of the coalition’s outreach program is to assist qualifying families with managing their funds and that includes budgeting and living within their means.”
Utility customers can make a one-time payment to the Care & Share fund or monthly donations can be added to their utility bill. They can start or stop those donations at any time.
Monthly donations need not be large.
“If you give up a cup of coffee once a month, most people can afford to participate in the Care & Share program, which helps their neighbors,” Rise said.
Utility customers can sign up as a Care & Share donor by filling out a form on the city’s website at http://www.fremontne.gov/453/Products-Services or in the utilities department office at 400 E. Military Ave., in Fremont.
Donations also can be made on an individual customer account.
The donor simply needs to know the customer’s name and address.
Donors don’t get information about the recipient’s bill.
“We do not release any customer information unless a person is named on the account,” she said.
The donor could get a gift certificate from the utilities department for the recipient, if requested.
“It’s a personal way to provide a gift for a friend or neighbor who might need assistance paying for the basic need of utilities in their home or apartment,” Rise said.
Any day is a good day to begin giving, she added.
“We receive so much more by helping others than what we’re really doing for them,” she said. “The gift is meaningful not only to the recipient, but to the person who is reaching out to help others. We get it back tenfold.”
But that’s not what motivates Fremont to be a generous community, she said.
“We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. I think we participate in these types of programs, because we care about our neighbors,” she said. “I’ve lived in Fremont 42 years now and it never ceases to amaze me how generous people are in Fremont.”