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Business decorates military family's home

With about 10 years in the winter holiday decorating business, Christmas Décor's Melissa (Missy) Crayford, standing in front, quipped: "I'm kind of the queen of Christmas around here. I've been doing it longer than anybody."

Bridget Relander cried when she got the phone call from Melissa "Missy" Crayford of Christmas Décor telling Relander that her family had been picked for the company's Decorated Families program.

A crew from the River Falls business would be coming to the Relanders' North Hudson home and decorating the exterior with Christmas lights if Bridget wanted them to.

It was Christmas Décor's way of saying thank you to a military family for its sacrifices on behalf of the country.

The owners of Christmas Décor also own and operate Greenskeepers of River Falls.

Bridget's husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Bryan Relander, won't be home this Christmas. A 16-year Navy veteran, Relander's reserve unit was called to active duty in October.

He's been in training since then and is expected to ship out to Kuwait this week.

Bridget is stoical, but her eyes grew misty when asked how long her husband would be gone. Bryan won't return home until July.

"I get used to it," she said. "It's not the first time he's been gone," she said.

The Relanders have two boys, Edward, 10, a student at North Hudson Elementary, and Johnathan, 3.

Bridget also takes care of her late sister Amanda Neff's three children much of the time.

Amanda, a decorated veteran of the Air Force, died March 30, 2011, of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Her husband, Terry Neff Jr. of Hudson, is a pilot with the Air National Guard.

His service often takes him away from Hudson, and the Neff children -- Hannah, 10, Nathan, 9, and Lauren, 8 -- stay with the Relanders when he is gone.

The Neff children attend Trinity Academy in Hudson.

Besides taking care of her own and her sister's children, Bridget runs a small daycare and is taking night classes to become a massage therapist.

"I stay quite busy between the kids, daycare, school and my husband being gone," she said.

Bridget's sister Sabrina Beottcher and mother, Marie Loughlin, both of the Cushing area, help take care of the children when she is at school.

Also a photographer, Bridget recently donated her time to take pictures of Edward's classmates at North Hudson Elementary.

In addition, she's the ombudsman for her husband's reserve unit, helping the spouses and families of the sailors deal with the deployment.

"It's hard for me to receive, because usually I'm on the other end. I like to give," said Bridget, as the crew from Christmas Décor strung lights and hung wreaths, garland and big red bows on her house earlier this month on a Friday.

"This is amazing and very humbling. I'm very grateful," she said.

Crayford, executive director of Christmas Décor's River Falls office, was overseeing the operation.

"We're pretty pumped up and excited about it," Crayford said.

This is the fifth year that Christmas Décor of River Falls has been involved in the Decorated Families program.

The company provides all the lights and trimmings, and comes to take them down after the holidays are over.

Crayford estimated the job done for free at the Relander's house was worth about $1,500.

The lights outlining the roof of the house are red, green and white -- the peppermint-stick design.

Christmas Décor also lit up a spruce tree in the front lawn.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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