November 5, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a humid August afternoon, among autumn decor and the scent of pumpkin spice wafting through her home, Mary Beth Harrold, 70, sat with her crew at the kitchen table plotting Christmas. The holidays arrive early in the red brick and tan house tucked away at 1402 Placid Lake Circle in Papillion, and the ladies know the importance of preparation. 

The past 18 years, Harrold and her three cohorts have designed one of four houses selected annually for the Christmas Caravan Tour of Homes, a fundraiser for the Assistance League of Omaha. The league donates to local community programs benefitting children and adults.

Harrold customizes holiday design plans for each home, handcrafting the decorations as needed. Planning begins months in advance with interviews; then items are purchased at the Dallas Market Center in Texas in January. It’s a team effort, and even the gals’ husbands lend a hand, loading and unloading decor. 

“Mary Beth is modest but she’s an excellent first-class designer,” co-worker Donna Wilcox explains. Wilcox, along with floral designer Mary Anne Hunter and the other women, puts hours into transforming homes for the holidays, especially the week leading up to the tour.

This season is unique because the caravan will include Harrold’s residence.

“It’s quite an honor. It’s the most beautiful time of the year. I just hope to make it to see the day,” Harrold says, her voice cracking.

Harrold has been receiving chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of malignant cancer that starts in smooth muscle tissue. These tumors are most commonly found in the abdomen, as in Harrold’s case.

She found out on the busiest day of the year for Papillion Flower Patch, Harrold’s floral and gift shop. Although she awoke with bad stomach pain, this diligent owner still headed into her shop on Valentine’s Day, 2019. She was rushed to the hospital after it became too severe to ignore. Doctors removed a 10-pound tumor (stage 3) from her abdomen. 

Ignoring her symptoms was a mistake, she  confesses. “Back then, I didn’t know any better.”

Harrold has put love, dedication, and effort into growing her business the past 43 years.

When her husband, Jim, bought a barber shop, he also purchased the lot across the street for his wife’s new flower business. Now, Harrold is turning over the key and ownership to her daughter, Stephanie Crandall. She, along with sister Kim Vieth, spent many days after school at her mother’s business creating flower arrangements, even as little girls.

Crandall has worked side by side with her mother through all the Christmas Caravans. Although Harrold might be too weak to decorate, she plans to be on hand to supervise her team’s efforts.

She has worked tirelessly, and whenever Harrold hears groans or complaints about the huge task at hand, she reminds the ladies of her motto, “Nobody is a quitter.”

When thousands of people descend through the doors of Harrold’s home, an earthy, cozy winter scene will greet guests. This wintery dream is wrapped in pine cones, faux snow, and creamy candles. Even the kitchen table provides a frozen snapshot of a family about to serve Christmas dinner. The dinner plates are reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell scene, with a dog leaning out of a red 1950s truck on a majestic snowy day.   

Cardinals and holly berries bring small splashes of red to the décor while staying true to its natural aesthetic theme. The outside permeates the inside with whispers of silvery birch. Another kitchen piece is sprinkled with snowy pine as if plucked from her tree out front.

In addition, Harrold loves big show pieces such as a white vase holding an arrangement of bristly pine, thick branches, and sparkly gold bulbs. A glass case holds a miniature pine tree surrounded by forest, flora, and fauna. A faux wood log and pine cones lay across the fireplace mantel. Long sticks of birch, wrapped in clear lights, are placed on the ends. Other arrangements are artfully placed in ceramic bowls, decorated cups, and wire vases. Even mirrors are lined with iridescent tree limbs. The nature-inspired winter wonderland is sure to impress visitors young and old.

Paying guests can view artful décor upstairs and purchase holiday items downstairs in the boutique. The caravan is a way for the group to give a percentage of profits to fund Operation School Bell. This program, in partnership with JCPenney’s, helps local children in need purchase clothing, footwear, and books.   

“Maybe we will enjoy our family more. Business is not as important this year,” Crandall adds, with a meaningful look at her mother. Harrold wants to spend this season with her four grandchildren, daughters, and all her friends. As a bonus, Christmas is her birthday, giving the family one more reason to celebrate Harrold and her love of this special season.

The Christmas Caravan Tour of Homes is held November 7 from 10 a.m. to  8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $16 or $20 at the door. A preview gala is scheduled the night before as well as a silent and oral auction at Champions Run Country Club. After the fundraiser, the ladies will return to Papillion Flower Patch for an open house sale over the weekend. 


This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.