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Star light, star bright

Thirty-year tradition burns out but returns this holiday season


Something went missing last year. Missing from the Christmas season.

From that spark, that spring in the step that the holiday brings.

The star on Gresham Butte — the star that’s shone faithfully for 30 years — did not glisten, did not glow.

The harbinger of the season, our symbol that Christmas is coming, never came.Mel Holst's Christmas star tradition continues thanks to caring neighbors.

Sharon Wood noticed. So did her sweetie Jim Keeton.

And this year, the star shines again.

The tradition began in 1981, when Mel Holst built a star of PVC pipe, strands of light and tape — lots of tape. Measuring 30 feet from tip to tip, that giant star stood on the back of Holst’s three-level house in the clouds on the northern flank of Gresham Butte, which overlooks Gresham, Troutdale and the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge.

He put the star up on Thanksgiving Day. Sure, it kicked off the holiday season, but weighing about 400 pounds, the star required five to six able bodies to assemble and erect it. With the family gathered for Thanksgiving, Holst was assured a sizable work crew.

Five years ago, Mel put his custom-built house up for sale. Gravely ill with shingles, he and his wife Joan moved to the west side to be closer to their children in Beaverton and Lake Oswego, who feared their father would die and their mother would be left alone on top of the hill.

Neighbor Sharon lives just around the bend and mourned the absence of her longtime neighbors. Then it hit her.

What about the star?

So that next Christmas in 2008, she and the love of her life, Jim, hoisted the star to their house.Sharon Wood and Jim Keeton are once again maintaining the tradition of Mel Holst's Christmas star.

But it’s a one-story ranch on a less visible swath of Gresham Butte. Braces in the front yard held the 500-bulb contraption in place until 90-mph gusts destroyed it.

Mel agreed to rebuild it. Jim re-engineered it. Made of steel conduit, each of the star’s five points can be added to the center, allowing just one person to put it together.

It’s also only 75 pounds, making the task much more manageable.

In 2009, the new and improved star made its debut on the Holst house. They’d hoped its glow would draw a buyer. Instead, the Holsts decided to rent out the house on one condition: The tenants must agree to shine the star from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

And that’s what happened in 2010.

Those tenants, however, didn’t count on the huge increase to their electric bill.

Wood figured she would schlep the star back over to her house again for Christmas 2011.

But in early November of that year, she had a massive stroke.

She spent 30 days in a coma and four months at a care center.

The star, as important as it was to her, was the furthest thing from her mind.

So last year, its glow did not illuminate the good people of Gresham.

Sharon, 71, is in much better health this holiday season but does have trouble walking. Vertigo, the condition is called.

One thing that wasn’t affected is her sense of humor.

“I act like I’m drunk,” she says. “It could be a lot worse. I really am blessed. My brain could have been more damaged than it already is. I have some memory lapses but no more than before.”

Earlier this year, when she was of more sound mind and body, she contacted Mel and Joan.

Those renters who balked at cost to power the star were moving out.

All agreed the star must shine again.

So on Sunday, Dec. 2, the gang met at the Holst house.

Jim, 80, showed a new generation how to put the star together.

How to place it just so across the home’s two back decks with those sweeping views of East Multnomah County.

Now Mel’s son-in-law and a grandson are entrusted with the tools to carry on the tradition.

“Everybody is so tickled to see the star lit up again,” Sharon says. “Back on its real home.”



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  • 22 Nov 2014

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