For many neighborhood residents, the Lake Highlands Women’s League annual Holiday in the Highlands home tour and market is the official start of the Christmas season. This year’s tour marks three decades of a neighborhood tradition, and to commemorate, former home tour chair Paula Davis scoured the league scrapbooks and meeting minutes to unearth all kinds of fun facts. To whet your appetite for December’s big event, we give you (appropriately) 30.

1 Forty years of service
Though this December’s home tour is the league’s 30th, the group will be celebrating 40 years as a service organization. The Lake Highlands Women’s League was founded in January 1969 by nine women and grew to 50 members the first year.

2 Big money
In the league’s 40 years of existence, it has donated $1.38 million to Lake Highlands students, schools and community projects.

3 Isn’t this a dry area?
Before the home tour’s inception, the league’s annual fundraiser was Lake Highlands Night at the Country Dinner Playhouse, a former dinner theater at Abrams and LBJ. The performance for the inaugural fundraiser? “The Drunkard”.

4 Investing in youth
The first scholarship awarded by the league was in spring 1970 to Brandy Ligon, who received $500 toward her education at Stephen F. Austin State University. To date, the league has helped 366 Lake Highlands students attend college, many of them the first in their families to pursue a secondary education, and some the first in their family to graduate from high school.

5 Food fads
Cheeseballs, mixes and hot spiced tea were previous bestsellers at the Holiday Market; these days, toffee is usually the first to go.

6 Madam president
The first home tour was Christmas 1979, and it was called Holiday in the Highlands from the start. For the first few years, the league president’s home was on the tour, a practice phased out as league members realized that leading the organization and having a home on the tour was holiday suicide.

7 Every little bit helps
The original home tour sponsors were Ebby Halliday Realtors (which printed the tickets that first year and is still a sponsor today), J. Haptonstall Realtors and Gilbert X-Ray Co. (owned by Bob Sanford, whose wife was an early president in the league and whose daughter’s house was later on tour). Last year, the tour had 395 sponsors, both families and businesses who donated anything from $10 to $25,000 and raised a total of $162,000. Of that, $35,000 was given to Lake Highlands schools, $40,000 was donated to 11 community projects, and $87,000 was awarded to 29 deserving seniors.

8 Overheard on the home tour
Tour-goer: “Do you think they throw everything in the closet?” Docent: “No, I think they actually live like this.”

9 What goes around comes around
In 1974, Lake Highlands High School drill team captain Julie Erck was given a Lake Highlands Women’s League scholarship to attend the University of North Texas. Erck later became Julie Brooks and moved back to the neighborhood, and in 2004, her Lake Highlands home was one of four on the tour.

10 Heavenly hosts
Five different churches have agreed to host the home tour bazaar or luncheon: Lake Park Presbyterian, Northlake Baptist, St. Patrick’s Catholic, Lake Highlands United Methodist and Highland Oaks Church of Christ.

11 Raid the pantry
The second year of the home tour, the league added a bazaar in a game room of one of the homes. A pantry sale — the forerunner of the bake sale — was in another home’s garage.

12 They’re crafty
In the late ’90s, the league began bringing in outside vendors to sell unique crafts at the market, but league members still provide baked goods as well as Christmas crafts.

13 Mother Nature smiles
Only one year in Holiday in the Highlands history has it rained on tour day. That’s impressive, considering the volatile Texas weather. Last year, it was 82 degrees and sunny, so tour homeowners had to turn on their air-conditioners, and the year before, it snowed the day before the tour.

14 Felt needs
The original crafts for the bazaar were made by league members during their meetings and additional workshop nights. Felt cutouts of the state of Texas with school logos on them were popular sellers.

15 Selling like hotcakes
The homemade goodies at the Holiday Market go fast. Last year, a woman stood in line early and bought roughly $300 worth of baked goods within the first five minutes. She told league members that it has been a holiday tradition of hers for years.

16 Rhyme and reason
Tour homes aren’t chosen at random. Over the years, a basic methodology has developed: The league tries to find two homes in the Forest Meadow Junior High attendance zone and two in the Lake Highlands Junior High attendance zone. The goal is to secure a traditional home, a contemporary home, a smaller home and, these days, either a new construction home or a remodel.

17 All hands on deck
The league now has 85 members and roughly 190 sustainers (women who were active members for five years or more). It requires everyone to pull off Holiday in the Highlands, the league’s only fundraiser, with more than 1,500 people wandering through the homes and 620 people dining at
the luncheon.

18 Twice is nice
Since its inception, the tour has included four homes every year, except for this year’s tour, which will include five. The grand total would be 121 homes on tour, but it’s actually only 116 homes because five have been on tour twice. Four of them were toured under separate owners, but Beverly and Don McCoy have opened their Moss Trail home twice, in 1991 and 1997.

19 Overheard on the home tour
“For Lake Highlands men, this is the blackest day of the year. Every woman comes home and says, ‘Honey, can we move that wall?’”
 —Terri Hawkins, Lake Highlands Women’s League president, 2007-2008

20 In the black
According to charitynavigator.org, an independent charity evaluator, seven out of 10 charities spend at least 75 percent of their budget on programs and services they exist to provide. Last year, after expenses, the Lake Highlands Women’s League gave 93 percent of money raised to worthy neighborhood causes. The average for the previous six years was 92.5 percent.

21 Worthy and noteworthy
In 1988 Vanessa Michaelopulos was a league scholarship recipient. She later married fellow Lake Highlander Michael Stevens, and today the couple owns Coach’s Burgers at Forest and Abrams. Vanessa Stevens is also an active member of the Lake Highlands Junior Women’s League and chaired its first-ever Run the Highlands event in 2006. Another former scholarship recipient giving back to the neighborhood is Lake Highlands Young Life area dir
ector Todd Beller, who received his scholarship in 1990.

22 Unsolicited generosity
One year, out of the blue, the league received a large check from a man who had received one of its scholarships as a graduating senior. He explained, simply, that the league had helped him when he needed help, and he wanted to return the favor.
 
23 What’s cookin’?
Recipes for the luncheon are taste-tested each summer to determine the menu. A committee of 12 women prepares the meal, and each luncheon attendee receives recipe cards spelling out directions for each course. The league compiles them into a cookbook every few years, which are on sale at the Holiday Market. If you want to attend the luncheon this year, you’re out of luck — tickets have already been snapped up.

24 Home tour ‘perks’
The tour homeowners each receive four tickets to the tour and four to the luncheon, and they’re invited to the home tour after-party where total funds raised are announced, and to the spring scholarship presentation. On top of this, league members like to give them a little something special to thank them. In early years, it was cross-stitch of a house with the year and their names; today it’s a Christmas hatbox filled with goodies from neighborhood sponsors. “But even when the value is high, it can in no way repay the gift they give to us,” says past home tour chair Paula Davis.
 
25 Overheard on the home tour
Tour-goer: “Is this room for the grandkids?” (referring to remodeled attic space) Docent: “Well, they don’t have grandkids. I think she’s anticipating.”

26 And the winner is …
If an award existed for the Lake Highlands Women’s League member who has sacrificed the most for the home tour, it would be given to either Donna Chereck or Charlene Law. Chereck spent one year as tour chair and one as league president, and had two different homes on the tour. Law spent two years as president, one as tour chair, and her home was on a tour.

27 The inaugural tour
The first-ever home tour chair was Nancy Engelland, who came up with the idea. The original houses on tour belonged to Liz and Stuart Potter at 9526 Chiswell; Peggy and John Erickson at 9902 Winding Ridge; Karen and Don Kimball at 9550 Milltrail; and Betty and Joe Caldwell at 10122 Estate Lane. Betty Caldwell was the first president to preside over a home tour, and she and her husband still live in the home that was on the inaugural tour. “It looks better now than it did that year,” Caldwell laughs. “I was a little bit wary of the home tour idea — I thought I might become the Herbert Hoover of Lake Highlands because I wasn’t sure how it would go over — but Nancy wanted to do it, and she coined the term Holiday in the Highlands.”

28 Deck the halls
In the beginning, the emphasis of tour homes was their Christmas decorations, but today it has shifted to home design trends and renovations. Nevertheless, tour-goers can expect decked out halls as they walk through the houses. (Bring a notebook to jot down ideas because the use of cameras and cell phones is not allowed.)

29 At your service
In 1983 league members came up with the bright idea to have their husbands become waiters at the luncheon. The men wear tuxedo shirts, spiffed up with bow ties and cummerbunds, and they’re popular among the ladies who lunch — tips have brought in more than $1,000 on average for the last seven years.

30 What are you waiting for?
This year’s Holiday in the Highlands is Friday Dec. 5, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tour homes are: Diane and Chuck Cheatham, 22 Vanguard Way; Lauren and Brian Jones, 9808 Church Circle; Molli and Gary Elliston, 9206 Westview Circle; Sandra Standefer, 9507 Winding Ridge Drive; and Joslyn and Bryan Taylor, 9217 Arbor Branch Drive. The Holiday Market takes place from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at Highlands Oaks Church of Christ, 10805 Walnut Hill. Home tour tickets can be purchased in advance for $10 from any Lake Highlands Women’s League member, or on tour day for $12 at any tour home or at the church. For ticket information, contact Meg Henderson at 214.343.4115 or meghende@sbcglobal.net.