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HUSON — Jessie Crowley remembers walking through the grounds of the Ninemile Schoolhouse's Christmas Market as a teen, taking in the charm of the handmade wooden toys, the joy among friends and family gathered.

"I just remember how magical it felt. I remember Hanneke," she said of Hanneke Ippisch, who with her husband, Les, bought the historic property in the 1970s and ran the market through 2002. "She always had her long red robe on."

Crowley grew up in Alberton, and she remembers wishing she could spend just one night at the schoolhouse. As an adult, Crowley has gotten her wish a few times over; February will mark three years she's been proprietor of the "maize" yellow schoolhouse in the Ninemile Valley.

She's traded Hanneke's long red robe for a pair of yellow rubber boots, but she's bringing a version of the old tradition back to life. This year, she's again opening the property for holiday festivities, and the Enchanted Christmas Village on this schoolhouse grounds is properly bedecked with elf furniture, a reindeer rest stop, and a station for children to write letters to Santa.

The enchantment means hot cocoa for kiddos, home brew for adults (Angry Elf Sour is among the beers on tap), and soup for all. Santa, of course, will make an appearance.

This year, Crowley hopes to draw enough visitors to bring in some money to support the Montana Down Syndrome Association, but mostly, she hopes the revival pulls community together. At the village, people can relax by the bonfire, listen to carolers, and of course, peek into the elf house.

"Just the gathering of people and bringing everybody together is the main thing I want to do," Crowley said. " ... That was my biggest memory of (the schoolhouse) being here and the magic of it."

"There was really nothing else like it."

***
 
The schoolhouse was built near the turn of the 20th century for children of the loggers of the Anaconda Co.
 
The place served as a community center and a dance hall, and in the mid-1970s, the Ippisches bought it and lived there, and brought the Scandinavian flair still apparent. Late daughter Hedvig Rappe-Flowers was the primary designer of the artwork, said her sister, Liedeke Rappe. Every year, Hanneke and Les would open their home at Christmastime to share and sell handmade treasures, like Nativity scenes or little wooden ornaments like the ones in the shape of a schoolhouse and painted yellow.
 
Les ran the wood shop, and the couple looked forward to the opening every year, as did visitors.
 
"When we open the gate, there's a lot of hugging and kissing," said Hanneke back in 2002, the last year she and Les held the market. "We visit all day. It's so much fun."
 
She missed the water of Holland, though, and the couple retired to get some rest on Flathead Lake. Hanneke died in 2012; Les passed away in 2005. Kurt Cyr, whose grandparents were among the temporary owners of the schoolhouse for a short time, revived the Christmas tradition from 2006 through 2009.
 
"It may be 100 degrees in the Ninemile, but at the schoolhouse, it's always Christmas," said Cyr, who grew up in Frenchtown, back in 2006.
 
The property has been more quiet for a while, but locals still remember the Christmas Market. Scott Nagy has lived near the community center for 30 of his 46 years, and he recalled this month the holiday hustle and bustle in the Ninemile around the old schoolhouse. He remembered the ornaments for sale and the kids-only store full of candy. (The same rules apply today; a sign on the door of the shop reads "Not For Grown-Ups!").
 
"The thing I remember most throughout my childhood was the amount of cars that would be parked along Remount Road," Nagy said last week.
 
Rochelle Knapp, one of Crowley's friends, said years ago, the buildings were vacant and run down, and the neighbors suspected something was amiss. "All the kids that lived right here, we thought it was haunted," she said.

Now, she's among the crew helping to bring the magic back to the schoolhouse, and she joked that Crowley "cracked the whip" a couple of weekends ago and put everyone to work.

"We decorated and decorated. (Crowley) feeds us and keeps everybody happy," Knapp said.

This year, Crowley said she'll be pleased if 20 people show up (she may be in for a surprise); she hasn't hosted a public holiday event there before, so she's asking people to keep their expectations low.
 
Already, though, the places looks charming. Candy canes sprout up in the yard, frosted green and gold ornaments hang from tree branches by long red sashes, a wreath as tall as a school child stands in the greenhouse, and red tinsel wraps around arched outdoor entrances.
 
"I would have to say that Hanneke is smiling right now," Nagy said. "Having somebody like Jess and Austin (husband Austin Crowley) move in there and love that house as much as she did, she and Les are very, very happy."
 
***
 
The Enchanted Christmas Village will be open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 7, 14 and 21 (see box for details), and last week, friends were swinging by to drop off decorations and help prepare for its grand reopening.
 
"I've really relied on the community to bring the community together," Crowley said. "I can't do it myself. I knew that going in."
 
As of the middle of last week, she had two sponsors, 834 Trails and Jackson Contractor, which has offered to purchase goodies for the cookie hut, but she still needs a baker to make the cookies and a piano player. Friends are pitching in with decorations and soups, like chicken tortilla soup, and maybe Italian wedding soup. 

This year, Crowley is hoping the event will raise money for a cause close to her family's heart, Down syndrome. Crowley has volunteered with the Montana Down Syndrome Association for roughly seven years, and she's hoping to bring in $2,000 for the nonprofit, which has a mission to ensure people with Down syndrome have "the necessary tools and meaningful opportunities to be an active member of the community."

Tickets cost $20 for the first child and $15 for subsequent children; adults and children under 1 enter free.

Crowley's parents were both special education teachers before they retired, the family always has been passionate about children with special needs, and her son Jacob, 12, has Down syndrome.
 
"They have the same emotions, desires, joy and eventually, almost everybody has the same understandings, and (they) do great in school and society," Crowley said. "I think I would love to see at least our small community here, if not the world as a whole, realize that as much as they feel like they need the community, the community needs them as well.
 
"Jake has changed our lives. All of us."
 
Randy Kryzsko said his grandson is light-hearted, humorous and easygoing. "He's got a lot of gifts to offer. Sometimes, you just maybe have to look a little deeper."
 
Said Crowley: "Or have more patience. He's a hoot, though."
 
Added Kryszko: "(He's a) cool little dude."
 
***
 
This year, the focus of the holiday event is on all the cool little ones, those who might want to decorate a cookie, see the "Naughty and Nice" list in person, get a photo with Santa, or grab a Dubble Bubble from the kids' candy store.
 
After corresponding with Crowley for roughly a year, Liedeke Rappe met her about three weeks ago. She wanted to know if Crowley wanted some ornaments she found in the silhouette of the schoolhouse, and the Ippisch daughter learned a plan was in the works for the Enchanted Holiday Village.
 
"That’s when I found out — which my mother would be thrilled about — that the schoolhouse has become a community hub, a gathering (place)," Rappe said. "And I think that’s just beautiful. It's become a social hub for the Ninemilers, and the Ninemile people were really good to my mom and Les, so it's just really fitting."
 
One day this month, different people dropped by to help with preparations, Crowley served the coffee hot and dark, and her father handed out homemade jerky to strangers. The home smelled of maple and spice, and it's taking on new life.
 
Crowley jokes that her spirit is fueled by a love of the Lord and a love of wine, but apparent in just a short time on the property is her love of people and community. 
 
"The neighbors pop in and don't knock. It's a community gathering spot, which I love. That's the spirit of it," Crowley said.
 
Said Rappe: "Now that it’s coming to life again, it's just fabulous."

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