This past weekend, Jean Balko, now of Oil City, Pa., got to see her Department 56 Dickens’ Village collection for the first time since giving it to the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce in August of 2018.
Now through Jan. 1, 2020, Balko’s buildings and accessories will be on display day and night in the front windows at the Deane Center for the Performing Arts at 104 Main St. in Wellsboro.
“My friends, Brian Thomas, Michelle Lemire and her fiancé Gary Rodgers brought me to Wellsboro,” said Balko. The group arrived Friday night, Nov. 22.
At 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, Julie VanNess, chamber executive director, met the group at Dunham’s Department Store.
“That’s when I presented Julie with the Dickens Castle and she accepted it on behalf of the chamber,” said Balko. “I told Jean I was going to include the castle in the annual display but at all other times, I would keep it on my desk because when I look at it I will be reminded of the special person she is,” VanNess added.
The group spent time at the Deane Center on Saturday looking at Jean’s collection as well as exploring downtown stores and doing some shopping. After dinner Saturday night, they returned to the Deane Center to see Jean’s collection with the houses lit.
“The chamber did a triple A plus job with my collection,” said Balko. “The houses were spread out so you can see them and more can be added.”
“Four houses and an animated skating pond have been added to Jean’s display through the Wellsboro Foundation,” said VanNess.
“In the 1980s, my first thought when I saw the Dickens’ Village pieces was ‘Wow, they are neat.’ They made me feel like a little girl again,” Balko said. Introduced in 1984, the Dickens’ Village collection depicts the places and people that readers visualize from works written by Victorian era author Charles Dickens.
“The first five Dickens’ Village houses I bought were for my hairdresser,” said Balko, adding, “When I saw the castle I fell in love with it. It was the first piece I bought for myself. Instead of giving it to the chamber, I kept it but since it is the father of my collection I think it should go with the rest of them. I’m not sure how many more years I am going to be around.”
Between the late 1980s when she started and the early 2000s when she stopped, Balko collected 76 Dickens’ Village buildings plus numerous figurines, lampposts, fences, trees carriages, and other accessories.
After deciding to move from Virginia Beach to Oil City in 2018, her first priority was to find a home for her Dickens’ Village. “I love that village and wanted to know where it was going to be,” Balko said.
Martha, Balko’s daughter who lives in Colorado, went online and found out that Wellsboro holds a Dickens of a Christmas celebration each year. Martha contacted VanNess who said yes to Balko’s offer to give the village to the chamber.
“I am so happy that my village has a home,” she said at the time.
Because Balko had just moved to Oil City in November of 2018, she was not able to come to Wellsboro last year to see her village on display for the first time in the Deane Center’s front windows. Now, she has.