Decorations bring attention to Tami’s on the Ave.
When sisters Milah Howlett, Elaine Gerhardt and Bev Gerhardt get together, they laugh — a lot. And if you physically can’t be with them to join in their fun, they have a special way of sharing that happiness through their sensational seasonal and holiday displays at Tami’s on the Ave. in Fairmont.
A few days ago, their latest endeavor — a 6-foot turkey — drew the attention of visitors from Ohio. The couple and their dog stopped to take several photos of the plywood creation, and other Tami’s patrons also have taken photos of the massive plywood bird.
“It makes people smile, and that’s a good thing,” Milah said.
This is the fourth year the trio has been handling the exterior and interior decorations for the restaurant. Milah had just moved back to the area from the Twin Cities in 2013 when Tami Gerhardt, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Doug, the sisters’ cousin, called in December and asked for the sisters’ help in putting up Christmas decorations.
“We (sisters) are always together anyway so we came out and helped her for a couple of hours,” Milah said. “After the first of the year, I asked Tami if it would be easier if we just came out and did all the decorating jobs for her.”
Since that beginning, the projects have expanded to include the main floor and the lower level as well as several exterior displays.
“It’s growing, depending on how much time I have,” Milah said. She also works at Dee’s Floral and Fleet and Farm. Bev does the cleaning at Tami’s and helps out in the kitchen.
Each display stays up about a month. Christmas decorations tend to focus on a winter theme, such as snowflakes, because those are left up into January to accommodate the after-holiday business parties in the lower level. The sisters say they spend so much time at Tami’s that they refer to Krysta Osborn, long-time kitchen manager who also spends many hours at the restaurant, as their adopted sister.
Bev and Elaine credit Milah with the creative genius of their projects.
“She brings it to life,” said Elaine, who is responsible for keeping the displays upright and secure.
“Milah is the visionary. Elaine is the technical one. I’m just the charming personality,” Bev said, eliciting laughter. “We just kind of feed off of each other.”
“I couldn’t do it without them,” Milah said.
“That’s because I’m 6’3” and get on the ladder,” Bev said to more laughter.
In addition to the 6-foot turkey currently on display, the three have designed and constructed a 7-foot Easter Bunny and a 6-foot cardinal, which took about three weeks and several coats of red paint to finish. Two years ago, the cardinal perched in the back of Milah’s husband’s new white pickup which pulled a trailer filled with hay and lights for the Fairmont Glows parade. The entry took first place.
They claim that artistic talent runs in the family. Brother Brad is known throughout the area for his vocal talents in barbershop quartets. Another brother Ron offered the idea to use the egress window in Tami’s lower level as a “television screen,” inspiring the sisters to develop special displays for the area.
Milah relies on her family for support and encouragement, calling them her biggest fans, but she also is grateful for two long-time Fairmont teachers.
“Duane Belseth and Gary Langer, those two art teachers always encouraged me,” she said. “If I had to say that a teacher changed my life, those two did. They made a difference, definitely.
I also have an understanding husband,” she said of her spouse, Joel.
“He has to be, especially with the three of us,” Bev added.
“And thanks to Doug and Tami. They’re kind enough to let us do this,” Milah said. “I’d like to do a lot more, but it’s the time. I promised them a turkey a couple of years ago, and I finally got that done.”
“Milah gets in the zone,” Bev said. “She’ll get an idea, but first she’ll say she doesn’t like it.”
That’s when Bev and Elaine know something great is about to happen because Milah will mull the idea over for a few days before she comes up with a final plan.
“There’s a lot of things in my head,” Milah said.
“Oh, no. That’s the scary part,” Elaine said.
And there’s more laughter.