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Furniture store owner selected to help decorate White House

MORGANTOWN — A Morgantown man with a lifelong passion for Christmas displays was selected as a volunteer to help decorate the White House for Christmas.

Being selected and visiting the White House was quite an honor and a great experience, said Ed Keepers, 67.

“I was, you know, pretty much raised in retail,” Keepers said. “I did displays for John Wanamaker, some Bailey Banks and Biddle in Philadelphia and you know, the big cities really always go out for Christmas.”

A store’s Christmas window was the big thing as he was brought up, Keepers said. It’s a Christmas tradition Keepers continues in his store, Classic Furniture in Sabraton.

“Wanamaker’s always revealed all their Christmas windows in all the big cities and you know, as a kid, I always looked forward to it,”  he said.

The next step in Keeper’s journey to the White House happened after he was invited to help decorate the Blaney House, where West Virginia University’s presidents keep house while at the helm of the state’s flagship university.

A lady, who turned out to be Vivien Woofter, said she liked what he had done and he should consider going to decorate the house where the country’s presidents live. Woofter is a WVU alum who has decorated “136 or 146 embassies around the world.” Keepers said she excelled in her field at a time when it was dominated by males and he really took her remark as a compliment.

Keepers has been an excellent partner with the university over the years,  said Robin Yorty, executive director of university events.

“I could immediately see that that would be something that he would be good at and a good representative of Morgantown as well as the state of West Virginia,” she said of him visiting the White House to decorate.

Over the years, Keepers kicked the idea around and this year, he applied, like everybody else, with a 2,500-word essay on his experience and why he wanted to contribute. The only thing Americans can agree on, is the holidays, Keepers said in his essay.

He was one of dozens chosen.

“So, I found myself down in Washington, Sunday night before Thanksgiving,” Keepers said.

The decorations used by the White House are those anyone can obtain – Keepers recognized all the brands and manufacturers. 

The plan to decorate was already laid out and the 50 or so volunteers, Keepers included, moved the boxes to the White House divided into teams and began decorating all the public rooms, which he said was physical work.

Dr. Jill Biden, the FIrst Lady, was actively involved in the planning of the decorations and set 2021’s theme as Gifts from the Heart.

“It was very traditional, but kind of forward thinking,” Keepers said. “These are decorations I think you could see in anybody’s home or anybody’s public installation. You know what I mean? There was nothing really, really over the top. It was very traditional. And just absolutely beautiful.”

There were 41 live Christmas trees in the White House, Keepers said. The biggest of which was an 18-footer in the middle of the Blue Room, which is so large the chandelier is removed from the ceiling. Surrounding it are 50 paper doves representing each state.

While decorating, the rooms were filled with scaffolding. 

The following Monday, when Keepers went back for a reception for the volunteers, the scaffolding was gone.

“And it was just breathtaking. And so we come up the steps and the Marine Corps band is playing,” 

Keepers was taken towards the Blue Room, given a name card, and announced as he entered and was greeted by Dr. Biden who extended her hand, which he shook, and wished him a happy holiday. Keepers had his photo taken with her before a group shot was taken outside the east portico, “which is the one you always see the president leaving from and all the dignitaries coming in from.”

Keepers said he felt the energy of the town while in Washington, D.C. The people he met and worked with were a wonderful group of people from many different walks of life. Getting along and having a common goal was really inspiring.

“And we lose sight of really how blessed we are, but how much we have an obligation to make sure, you know, that we maintain not only our standard, but our civility to each other,” Keepers said. “I mean, we all gotta gather under that flag and realize that we have a lot to protect and a lot to lose.”

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