By: Brandei Clifton
December 21, 2023
Since Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has been in office, there’s a certain Silver Dollar City sparkle around the mansion at Christmastime.
Each year, the halls are decked and the trees are trimmed by The City’s Visuals team, who recently returned from their annual, four-day decorating trip to the state capital.
The tradition started in 2019 when First Lady Teresa Parson needed some tips to spruce up trees and doll up what she calls “The People’s House.” A big fan of Silver Dollar City, she reached out to the park for ideas.
“At the time, the mansion staff was buying decorations from local stores but weren’t finding exactly what they were looking for,” explains Kelly Eutsler, The City’s visual design manager. “We connected them with some sales reps to order what they needed.”
The Silver Dollar City gals met mansion staff at retail markets in Dallas and Atlanta to gather what they would need, with a focus on buying big items that could be reused and repurposed each year. That’s when a Christmas light bulb went off in Kelly’s creative brain.
“The Parson family invited us to the mansion for dinner that year to review their décor. We said, ‘Why don’t we just help you put this all up too?’” Kelly says.
That was the first year the Silver Dollar City team helped execute the Christmas plans in person. Each holiday season since – except for 2020 – Kelly, Carrie Duvall, and Karen McCaulley travel north to Jefferson City for a few days of festive fun.
“It’s always so surreal when we pull up to the mansion and those gates open for us,” gushes Kelly. “They have always truly treated us like part of the family.”
That includes the freedom to roam the mansion.
“No one follows us around and tells us not to touch stuff,” laughs Carrie. “There have even been a few times when it’s just the three of us hanging out in the mansion with security while the family is away.”
They say the “girls' trip” almost feels like some sort of fancy slumber party.
“The mansion is historic and absolutely beautiful,” Karen says. “Then, you see us walking around in our socks and pajamas. The staff encourages us to make ourselves at home, and it sure feels like it.”
Carrie remembers one of the first years the team went to decorate and learned the Parson family loves football.
“Kelly was listening to the Chiefs game when we got there and security told us to go up to the third floor and watch the game with the governor,” she smiles.
“Oh, yeah!” remembers Karen. “We went up there and the Governor and First Lady had their sweatpants on with their feet up on the coffee table watching the game. They told us to have a seat and join them.”
“Crazy to think we were just relaxing with the Governor watching football,” Kelly says. “And they are always such sports about capturing these moments with photos! The Governor is always so mindful of these moments and realizes they are special. There have even been times where he has offered to take the photos himself, to make sure we get it on film.”
It’s not all “play” while the team is tromping around the Governor’s grounds each year. It takes plenty of planning and collaborating with mansion staff, which gives the City team the theme months ahead of time.
“We’ve helped them plan the purchase of big items like garland and trees that we can retool with each different theme,” Kelly says. “We can always add different bows, change out ornaments, and things like that to match the theme.”
For example, this year’s theme is honoring armed forces.
“We showed them how to keep the décor from looking like Fourth of July and make it more fitting,” Karen says. “As we’re decorating, the staff always encourages us and tells us to go take breaks because we’re working so hard!”
Kelly chimes in. “Yeah, but they don’t see how hard we work launching festivals at Silver Dollar City, so our mansion work seems easy – and stress-free – to us. These trips are the best teambuilders!”
“In the evenings, the Governor will walk in like a dad getting home from work and ask to see what we did that day,” Karen says. “He always tells us ‘good job’ and takes time to ask each of us how we’re doing.”
“It’s pretty awesome how laid back they are and how much they trust our vision,” Carrie says. “This has been such a fun tradition for us that we’ll always hold tight to. It’s a real honor.”
There are so many halls to deck inside the sprawling house. The team is thoughtful with each detail from poinsettias that line the staircase, to tons of trees and marvelous mantels. With their skilled hands, the mansion transforms each year into a winter wonderland.
There was an added Silver Dollar City presence at the mansion this season. President Brad Thomas was invited to flip the ceremonial switch at the annual Tree Lighting, an event that drew thousands of visitors to the mansion.
Next year will be Gov. Parson's final Christmas in the mansion as he ends his second term. The Silver Dollar City team hopes their decorating tradition will continue with the change in leadership.
“Hopefully, the next governor appreciates our work and likes the look of what we accomplished during these years and asks us to keep coming back,” Kelly says.
The team says the magical partnership between Silver Dollar City and the Governor’s office has never been about politics.
“In this divided world, I think we can all get behind the importance of helping each other and spreading cheer,” Karen says. “We know just how to do that! How fitting to bring sparkle from Silver Dollar City to Jefferson City. It warms my heart.”