DE PERE — The day after Thanksgiving was anything but a rest day for Sue Yakoubek.
With help from a few volunteers, Yakoubek spent nearly eight hours on Black Friday decorating for the Advent season at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
“It makes me feel good when people tell me they like the decorations or when they say the church looks beautiful,” she said.
“Whatever the season, I try to make the church look like that’s the season we are in. When people see the decorations and tell me they like what I’m doing, and they feel ‘in the season,’ that gives me incentive to keep going,” Yakoubek said. “My feet sometimes get pretty sore from standing for a whole day of decorating. But if people like what we’ve done, then it’s worth it.”
Yakoubek, who is retired, is in her eighth year as director of the parish’s arts and environment committee. She served as a volunteer on the committee for five years prior to that. Yakoubek oversees the decorating process for each liturgical season throughout the year. This year, Advent is Nov. 27 to Dec. 24.
She primarily collaborates with her pastor, Norbertine Fr. James Baraniak, and the parish’s director of music and liturgy, Jody Strnad. She also receives volunteer assistance from a few parishioners and family members, especially her husband, Gary; daughter-in-law, Cheri Daanen; and parishioner Pam Lennon.
“Sue does an incredible job decorating,” Fr. Baraniak said. “She’s so good at filling the space in our church, which is a rather large church. And she has a great understanding of color. Some of the floral displays she brings into the church are just incredible.”
Fr. Baraniak wants the décor for each liturgical season to have a different feel, so he works closely with Yakoubek during the planning. They begin discussing Advent a month or two in advance.
“I listen to Fr. Jim and hear what he would like and then we go from there,” said Yakoubek, noting she usually sketches out her vision on paper in case others need to refer to the plan. “We keep it on the simpler side for Advent, since Christmas is right after that and involves much more decorating. We want Advent to be fitting for the time of year.”
She typically turns in her greenhouse orders by September or October.
“Sometimes I’ll also find a bush and dry those flowers in our garage. As it gets closer to Advent, I bring those in and use them as decorations, too,” she said.
Advent means incorporating purples and greens, Yakoubek said, adding, “Purple can be challenging sometimes, but I like to use purples and greens. It’s important I use those colors.”
Each year, there are variations to the seasonal décor. The most significant change in Advent décor this year involved positioning the 5-foot-wide Advent wreath in the interior gathering space instead of in the main church area.
“Sue is very open-minded to décor ideas and working with me to make changes like that,” Fr. Baraniak said. “It’s so nice that she’s patient with me and very easy to work with. We are fortunate to have someone who does such a beautiful job arranging things.”
Her husband, Gary, admits he may be a tad biased, but he’s “very impressed” with his wife’s talents and dedication.
“I think she does a fantastic job,” Gary said. “She doesn’t give herself enough credit for the amount of effort she puts into it. I also see the other side of things at home, too, where she’s thinking and planning. There’s a lot of effort before things start to happen.”
Gary primarily assists with heavy lifting or hanging banners in elevated locations. Tami Wagner and Russ Boettcher also assist her.
“I have some really great people who help me,” Yakoubek said. “Like with Gary, he helps me hang my banners, and I know I can count on him to get up on the ladders for that.”
Yakoubek’s interest in decorating dates back many years.
“I’ve always liked doing things on the crafty side,” she said. “I do knitting, sewing, and crocheting. I like that sort of thing. So, when I was first asked to help out, I thought, ‘Sure, I can do that.’ A few years ago, when I started (as director), we were only doing a few flowers on special occasions. Now, the decorations are quite extensive.”
Her mindset also has changed over the years.
“I don’t feel as nervous doing it now compared to when I started (as director),” she said. “I feel pretty comfortable now. But as we get close to events, sometimes I can lay awake at night thinking, ‘Did I do a good enough job?’ I want our parishioners to like how our church looks. I especially want our altar to look beautiful.”
Yakoubek devotes about 15 hours per week to church-related activities.
In addition to regularly attending Mass and decorating year-round, she makes altar cloths, tablecloths, and banners for use both inside and outside. She also is a member of the worship and spiritual life committee.
Gary assists with various parish building projects. Both he and Sue have been members of the Lourdes choir for about 40 years.