While friends and neighbors were decking the halls back home, Norma Spencer was decorating the White House.
The Baraboo retiree spent the week after Thanksgiving sprucing up the Blue Room for Christmas.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “It was an honor.”
She was nominated for the experience by her daughter-in-law Lisa Spencer, who spotted the application on social media.
“She loves God, this country and Christmas so it sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her,” Lisa Spencer said. “I thought it was a long shot so I didn’t tell her I did it. When I was notified she’d been chosen, I said to her, ‘You are either going to love me or hate me.’”
The nominee was pleased. She paid her way to Washington, D.C., joining hundreds of other volunteers. They worked three full days before being honored at a reception hosted by first lady Melania Trump.
Norma Spencer helped decorate one of the Blue Room’s Christmas trees with blown-glass ornaments and velvet banners bearing the names of every U.S. state and territory. She made sure Wisconsin received prominent placement.
She was one of 150 volunteer decorators assigned to the Prancer team. There was a team named after each of Santa Claus’ reindeer, assigned to decorate the White House’s rooms, foyers and hallways. There are real Christmas trees in every room, and live music throughout the building.
“I was overwhelmed when I walked in,” she said.
Despite going through multiple security checks each day, she felt welcomed by White House staff.
“I really felt like I was home,” Spencer said. “I acted like a kindergartner. I asked so many questions.”
She made friends with fellow volunteers, connecting with them via social media upon her return last week. They were chosen from thousands of applicants. Some were experienced designers, but Spencer, a grandmother and retired legal secretary, was nominated for her love of God, country and Christmas, as well as for her status as a breast cancer survivor.
“I think I now rank pretty high on her Christmas list this year,” Lisa Spencer said.
During the reception, Norma Spencer chatted with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the president’s counselor Kellyanne Conway. She caught a glimpse of the president and his helicopter. She saw George Washington’s sword and portraits of other presidents. Spencer tried to angle herself into camera shots as HGTV recorded a special — set to air Sunday evening — on the White House decorations.
Back home on Lovers Lane outside Baraboo, she’s preparing for speaking engagements for a local 4-H club, St. Clare Meadows Care Center and the Community Christian School. There she can showcase the invitation she received from Mrs. Trump and the apron White House decorators received.
“She has only taken it off to sleep,” her husband Chuck Spencer joked.
After being gone nearly a week and facing a busy schedule, is Norma Spencer behind on setting up her own Christmas decorations?
“I did all that before I left,” she said.