Steve Bolt built the two treehouses in the backyard of his and his wife Carol's Independence house after their grandchildren made the fun suggestion.
Carol jokingly said grandpa would build them one and the kids unexpectedly followed through with drawings of their ideas.
The treehouses, complete with a walkway bridge in between, became a favorite not only for the grandchildren but for church gatherings, neighborhood children and children visiting neighbors, and even for high schoolers for prom pictures.
Last year, after meeting a local mall Santa Claus who visited the insurance office where they work, they decided to turn their lit-up backyard into a “Santa Wonderland” where children could visit Santa and leave wish-list letters one afternoon. Being longtime youth ministers at their Community of Christ church, they invited children from church and reached out to people they knew on Facebook.
Over just a few hours, about 60 children with their parents visited the remodeled century-old house at 1602 N. River Boulevard, immediately south of Mound Grove Cemetery.
This year, they're willing to open up Santa Wonderland to the entire community Friday, with activities beginning at 4 p.m. and Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving at 5 p.m.
“We've had church gatherings with the little kids and picture events, but nothing to this degree,” Carol said. “It's our way of giving back to the community.”
Steve said his wife “lives to decorate” for each season, and after he built the treehouses it became a natural progression.
“Because so many kids who enjoyed it, it just evolved,” he said.
The Bolts will have craft tables and a letter-writing station for children and will serve hot chocolate around the covered fire pit, so not everything is weather-dependent. Ideally, without rain, children and adults will be able to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus in the separate treehouses, aided by volunteers.
They considered their first attempt at Santa Wonderland to be “very popular” last year and hope to have at least as big a showing this year
“We've been blessed with this house and have been blessed to do what we can do,” Steve said.
If you go:
The Bolt residence is at 1602 N. River Boulevard, Independence, north of U.S. 24 and just before Mound Grove Cemetery. Activities begin at 4 p.m. Friday.