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Tom Harper: Look up to spot this Lawrence holiday tradition (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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Sometimes I have really good timing. Friday was one of those days after a salad at the Merc.

Walking out to the car, I glanced toward Stoneback Appliance and saw an entire life-sized nativity in a truck and trailer.

The figurines were waiting to be installed on the roof of Hillcrest Shopping Center at 925 Iowa St. The adults were in the bed of the truck, and the four-legged critters were on the trailer with Baby Jesus.

With enthusiasm, I approached Arlando Gaines, Tim Gaines and Tim Banks. They were tasked with safely lifting each figurine to the roof and securely installing them. They’ve been doing this for eight years or so.

This particular nativity set is the second generation: “The original set finally started falling apart several years ago,” Banks said.

The tradition dates back to the mid- to late 1950s, said Andy Vigna, the owner of Stoneback Appliance. He informed me about Richard Raney, the former owner of the shopping center, who started the tradition.

It was a windy day, so I asked how they were secured. Tim Gaines motioned to the bolts on the underside of Baby Jesus’ crib. Each figurine has several places where a bolt can be placed and secured to the roof.

The annual placement of the nativity scene on the Hillcrest Shopping Center pleases many in Lawrence who honor the Christian tradition, and even those who simply appreciate the kitsch of this local holiday tradition.

For me, it brings a smile to look up and see everyone gathered on the roof of my favorite midcentury shopping center in town. I am sure Raney and John F. “Johnny” Kapfer, the designer and builder, would appreciate this annual tradition continuing in 2022.

Many thanks to Tim and Arlando Gaines, Banks, and the Raneys for keeping this tradition going for our community to enjoy over the past 60-plus years.

Happy holidays, one and all. 

About the writer
About the writer


Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.

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