The return of merry memories |

The return of merry memories

Craig resident revisits holiday tradition in honor of late father

Craig resident Teresa Smith stands near a wall filled with family memorabilia inside her home in west Craig. Smith has several mementos from the life of her late father, longtime Craig resident Joe Skufca, the most prominent being a mechanized Christmas decoration he made that stood outside the family home for more than four decades.
Bridget Manley

Teresa Smith stands near the Christmas decoration her late father, Craig resident Joe Skufca, made in the mid-1960s. The ornament now stands outside of her home. Skufca put up the decoration every Christmas for more than 40 years, “no matter what,” Smith said.

Joe Skufca was an electrician by trade but also was handy in other areas. “There wasn’t anything he didn’t do himself,” Smith said.

It’s a simple decoration outside Teresa Smith’s home in the 700 block of Park Court — the whimsical creation of a workingman’s imagination.

A motor hidden behind a bright red cutout of Santa creaks faintly as it hoists a perpetually round-eyed St. Nick up and down on a pulley.

A benevolent elf, cut from wood, points forever upward as a nearby reindeer with a chagrined look on its face appears to be heaving forward, trying to hoist Santa to the roof.

Simple, yes. Festive, too.

But to Smith, 58, the animated holiday decoration is much more than wood and rope, paint and gears.

It’s a reminder of her father, the late Joe Skufca, an electrician by trade and a handyman by nature.

“We still have bolts and cables and stuff we don’t know where they go,” Smith said, laughing. “It didn’t come with instructions.

“But, I just felt a need to have it up, to remember my dad.”

Skufca built the mechanized decoration around 1965 when the family lived in Glenwood Springs.

For more than 40 years that followed, Skufca braved the elements to install the jolly elf and his reindeer in their customary places every year outside the family home.

“No matter how cold it was, he was out there putting it up, no matter what,” Smith said.

The decoration later graced the family’s Craig home, and there it stayed for more than 30 years.

Driving by the Skufca’s home on the corner of Ninth and Green streets “was one of the Christmas rituals for everybody in Craig,” she said, as parents and adults would park in front of their house to watch the iconic decoration.

“He was really proud of it,” Smith said.

When it was stolen one year, residents wrote to the Craig Daily Press.

Residents in east Craig later found it in their yard, she said, probably the result of a children’s prank.

Skufca put the decoration up every year, even after suffering a debilitating accident in 1978.

He was on a power pole near Oak Creek when a jolt of electricity surged through his body and left him dangling upside down from his safety belt, Smith said.

Skufca crawled down the pole with his elbows and later underwent skin grafts to repair damage to his hands.

The shock took a permanent toll on his hands.

“He couldn’t hardly put gloves on, but he still would work on stuff,” Smith said. “No matter what, he would figure out a way to use his hands.”

He made sure Santa and his reindeer went up every year outside the family home.

“He was a determined man,” Smith said. “He didn’t give up, ever.”

The iconic decoration remained in Craig until 2002, when Joe Skufca and his wife, Ruth, moved to the Denver area.

Skufca continued to put up the ornament every year until 2008, when cancer sapped the energy that neither age nor injury had been able to dampen.

Skufca died May 16, 2010. He was 78.

But, fragments of his life remained that attested to what he had endured and who he had become.

On Smith’s wall hang framed newspaper clippings recounting the 1942 mine explosion at Mount Harris that claimed the life of Joe Skufca’s father, Anton Skufca, and 33 other men.

“Coal mine gives up its dead,” one headline reads.

Joe Skufca was only 9 years old when his father was killed, and his mother was left to raise three other children alone, Smith said.

Other memorabilia speaks to Skufca’s accomplishments.

The award naming him an all-conference basketball and football player at Hayden High School, where he graduated in 1950, hangs in a nearby case.

Finally, there’s the decoration now installed outside Smith’s home, a testament to his determination, handiwork and glint of whimsy.

Residents are still welcomed to drive by and watch the decoration, Smith said, which is located outside her home at 769 Park Court in the Ridgeview subdivision.

When asked to describe what this decoration signifies for her, Smith’s eyes filled with tears.

It’s a way to remember her father, she said.

Perhaps, by extension, it’s a way of keeping his legacy alive, too.

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