Grand Haven Tribune: Gone, but not forgotten
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Gone, but not forgotten

Becky Vargo • Dec 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Dewey Hill looks empty and forlorn without snow and the Nativity scene, said City Manager Pat McGinnis, a member of the Rotary group that for many years raised the giant porcelain-covered figures on the north side of the river.

Mayor Geri McCaleb also said the hill looks a little bare this season without the Nativity scene.

“A lot of folks miss it, and so do I,” she said. “(But) it’s still the Christmas season, whether we have figures on the hill or not.”

“We missed it when we came around the curve,” said Nunica resident Margo Dill, as she and her husband, Rick, walked their dog along the waterfront Tuesday afternoon.

The sight familiar to Grand Haven-area residents for 50 years is gone, the victim of a church and state separation campaign by Norton Shores resident Mitch Kahle and his associates.

Rather than be subjected to a lawsuit, Grand Haven City Council voted 3-2 in January to restrict any display on the critical dune to the existing flag pole and the occasional raising of the anchor only, and not religious symbols such as the cross and Nativity scene.

The Nativity scene lit up the hill each year, since it was introduced in 1965, with a colorful arrangement of angels, wise men on camels, shepherds, sheep and the manger scene. Every night during the month of December, the Christmas story would be told in narrative, lights and music.

As this year’s holiday season approached, the volume of comments on social media increased, with people sharing pictures of the Nativity scene lit by the star on the feature pole on the top of the dune. While a majority of the commenters expressed sadness at the loss of the display, others noted that it didn’t really belong there.

Nicole Robb of Grand Haven, who was downtown with her extended family on Tuesday, said having the display on the hill never offended her, but she believes it didn’t belong there.

“I can understand people are sad about losing a tradition,” she said, “but it doesn’t belong on government land.”

People can put Nativity scenes in their yards, Robb added.

“I kind of liked it,” said Alto resident Carl Reynhout as he took a break during a fast walk down the boardwalk. “I understand in a sense why it isn’t there. It’s disappointing that it has to be this way.”

Rick Dill expressed sadness that just a few people could have such a big say in the community.

“It’s kind of sad when a small minority has so much power,” he said.

Tom Creswell, a former Rotary member and longtime director of the Nativity display committee, said although club members all knew something like this would happen, “we always dreaded it would happen.”

“But with separation of church and state, you have to let everybody or nobody,” he added.

Creswell said it was very weird on the Saturday after Thanksgiving not to have to wake up and go to the hill to install the Nativity scene. He used to gather his children, his friends and their kids and go to the hill — often in the cold, wind and rain — to raise the figures. Although it was sometimes difficult to get volunteers to help in those conditions, everyone had a sense of accomplishment when they were done, he said.

Creswell said he liked being part of something that many people in the community went to see and enjoy.

“It was a way of giving back to the community,” he said. “That’s the part I miss.”

Dr. Kennard Creason, 66, started working on the project from its inception with his father, the late Dr. Bill Creason.

“In our family, we would say, ‘We’re going to the hill on Saturday,’” the younger Creason said. “It’s what we’ve always done.”

Creason said erecting the Nativity scene was like a barn raising, where everyone pitches in and puts something together.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “The Nativity scene for me was the whole story of Christmas. 

”I really do miss it. I miss the music. I miss the lights over there,“ Creason continued. “Every little town has something like this. I hate to see it disappear. It’s kind of a sad time that way, but I guess we’ll get used to it.”

Creswell said it doesn’t look like the Nativity scene will ever return to Dewey Hill, so it’s time to put all that energy into something positive.

“We’ll find another way to give back to the community,” he said.

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