A tradition will be broken this year when the Christmas tree at Omaha’s Durham Museum is topped with two angels instead of one.
The angels will represent Taylor and Jordyn Podraza. The sisters, ages 10 and 12, respectively, died in 2010 along with their father in a crash on Nebraska Highway 2 near Ansley, Nebraska.
The 50-foot blue spruce was donated by their mother, Kelly Incontro, and her husband, Jay. It had grown from a seedling planted by a former resident of 2516 S. 46th St. in the early 1970s.
“When the museum told us they would be placing two angels on top of the tree to represent the girls, we were very happy,” Kelly Incontro said Monday. “That’s what will make this so fitting for Christmas at Union Station.”
The tradition got rolling Monday as Union Pacific Railroad workers cut down the tree against a gray November sky while snow swirled in the air. It took about an hour for the crew to remove the symmetrical tree from the front yard of a rental home owned by the Incontros.
Students and teachers from nearby Norris Middle School stood across the street as the tree came down. The festive atmosphere is one Kelly Incontro said her daughters would have enjoyed.
“Last night, I asked, ‘How cool would it be if it snowed?’ because the girls loved snow,” she said. “My girls, my two guardian angels, didn’t let me down.”
The tree was then taken to the Durham Museum at 801 S. 10th St., where it will be decorated for a lighting ceremony the day after Thanksgiving. Staff from Mangelsen’s will trim the tree with about 12,000 lights and hundreds of huge ornaments.
The tradition of a tree at the Durham goes back to the 1930s and the museum’s days as a train station. Union Pacific employees would cut down large evergreens in the Pacific Northwest and send them to Omaha’s Union Station, where they would be decorated and displayed for travelers.
The station closed in 1971. The Western Heritage Museum opened there in 1975, and the tree tradition resumed.
Incontro said she was thinking of her girls when she contacted the museum about donating the tree. She and her husband have made a point of giving back to the community in the girls’ names, she said.
“We keep their memories alive through athletic and academic scholarships as well as donations,” she said. “I just want people to keep remembering Jordyn and Taylor.”
Incontro said she meets regularly with many of the children who were friends with the girls at St. Wenceslaus Catholic School near 153rd and Pacific Streets. She and Jay exchange messages with members of that community and often go to lunch with them on Mother’s Day and the girls’ birthdays, Incontro said.
“We’re excited about getting together with a lot of our friends and family around the tree in the museum,” Jay said. “It’s going to be very special.”
The decision to donate the tree was even more poignant, Kelly Incontro said, because Christmas was the “lively, fun-loving” girls’ favorite holiday.
“When we do turn on the lights for the tree, it will be like my girls walking into a room,” Kelly said. “They absolutely lit up any room they went into with their personalities.”
Photos: Transporting a 50-foot tree to the Durham Museum
Union Pacific employees cut and transport a 50-foot blue spruce tree to the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, on Monday, November 12, 2018. The tree which stood in the front yard of a home on S. 46th Street was donated by owners Jay and Kelly Incontro.