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Reindeer Route Housewalk celebrates 37 years

ELMHURST – Groups of women and even a few men bundled up in coats and scarves and slipped off their shoes to explore six hand-picked Elmhurst homes decorated by local florists for the 37th Annual Reindeer Route Housewalk on Dec. 6.

“We look for a diverse, kind of an eclectic group of homes, that showcase different attributes and designs in Elmhurst,” said Ann Gunst, president of the Elmhurst Junior Unit, which organizes the event as a fundraiser for the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Foundation.

About 800 people tour homes each year, raising $25,000 and donating unwrapped toys for pediatric patients. This year the funds raised will be split between scholarships for young adults entering the medical field and Elmhurst Memorial’s new Center for Cancer Care.

While some of the homes have been built in the last decade, others, like a 1956 California style bi-level on Cottage Hill Avenue, have been in Elmhurst for much longer.

“This home in particular has a lot of history,” Gunst said.

Homeowners Mike and Donna Hennel bought the home in 1995 and have been redecorating and redesigning it ever since.

“We saw the potential of what it could be,” said Donna Hennel, who does interior designing, of the home that used to have a bomb shelter in the basement.

Other homes, like a 2010 five-bedroom, four-bathroom home on Kenilworth Avenue built by Elmhurst’s Hinsbrook Construction, are nearly brand new.

Elmhurst interior decorator Sherry Miller, owner of Home Appeal, took pleasure in configuring rooms to make the house not just good looking, but functional for the Van Solkema family.

Local florists donate their time and energy to present each home for the holiday season. Selection begins in the spring, and homeowners spend months preparing each house for the hundreds of guests that visit the first Saturday of December.

“I think most people come in and get ideas of what they’re going to do with their Christmas tree,” said Tracy Musso, manager of development for the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Foundation.

For Gunst, who most enjoys the community involvement that the event fosters, the housewalk is more than just an Elmhurst tradition, it’s a family tradition. Her mother, that late Marilyn Graber, started the walk with the Elmhurst Junior Unit nearly four decades ago.

“She was always so enthusiastic about doing it so carrying it on in her honor is just something that is very fulfilling,” Gunst said.

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