Hundreds of volunteers make Candlelight at the Ranch possible for thousands of visitors

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Suzanne Reese annually decorates a gingerbread replica of the 1909 Barton House as she and her family volunteer in the historic structure during Candlelight at the Ranch. In this 2019 photo, Bonnie Reese joins her mother at the table and uses popcorn and cranberries to make a Christmas tree garland. The cabinets in the background are original to the house. (Photo by John Weast via the NRHC)

LUBBOCK, Texas (PRESS RELEASE) — The following is a press release from the National Ranching Heritage Center:

Four generations of volunteers have made Candlelight at the Ranch a Lubbock tradition as thousands of visitors will gather for a pioneer Christmas from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the National Ranching Heritage Center.

Dennis Hargrove admits he doesn’t remember when he started volunteering as Santa Claus, but he knows it’s been “for as long as I can remember.” John Levacy, on the other hand, can pinpoint the year he started, and his 31 years have made him the longest serving volunteer at the annual event.

Candlelight at the Ranch began 43 years ago with a few hundred visitors. Now the numbers have grown to the point that it takes a few hundred volunteers to produce a pioneer Christmas for thousands of visitors. The event is family-friendly and free to the public with a suggested donation of $5 per family.

Hargrove is usually the last volunteer to leave and perhaps the only volunteer who never gets out of his chair as he whittles down the long line of children waiting to see Santa in the Pitchfork Pavilion. “With kiddos you’re always getting some kind of truth out of their mouths,” he says. “One child told me he knew I was the real Santa. When I asked how he knew, he said, “Because you’re not as grumpy as the Santa in the mall.”

Levacy will spend his time volunteering at the 1879 JY Masterson Bunkhouse “where real cowboys spent their time,” he says. “Our structures at the Ranching Heritage Center are not just buildings. They represent the people that settled this country and how they lived. People should understand how things came to be and look around and realize that just 140 years ago there was nothing here but grass. Each of the structures we have were occupied by people who wrote their page in history.”

Amy Pope was just a child when she started volunteering in 1989 with her parents, Mike and Patsy Bohn. Because of their German heritage, they volunteered in the Hedwig’s Hill Dogtrot House, a log house built in 1855-56 by German immigrants in Mason County, Texas. This year she will be in the Harrell House with her own three children, her parents, and her husband Philip.

Having families volunteering together is not unusual during Candlelight at the Ranch. Suzanne and Ryan Reese and their children Bonnie and Jack will take their usual place in the 1909 Barton House where thousands of visitors annually watch Suzanne create a gingerbread house that replicates the two-story Queen-Anne style house complete with balcony and a wrap-around porch.

Ana Torres has what she calls “a special place in my heart” for the only structure in the NRHC historic park with 33-inch-thick walls, no windows, six gun ports and an 11-foot flat ceiling. Torres has played her guitar and sung Spanish Christmas songs in Los Corralitos during every Candlelight at the Ranch since 2008. “I can almost feel my mom and dad in there with me when I sing,” she says.

Torres’ parents met as children on the Los Corralitos Ranch in Zapata County, Texas. Both her maternal and paternal grandfathers worked on the ranch, so Torres feels a connection to the efforts of the NRHC to recognize early Spanish land grants as the beginning of the ranching industry in Texas.

What will be new to the 2021 Christmas event is a 1920s rural church with both a congregation singing hymns and a clergyman delivering a two-minute sermon. Trinity Mission was once an Episcopal mission built on land donated by the Spur Ranch for the ranching community surrounding the new town of Spur, Texas.

Members of the Canterbury Association Student Center in Lubbock will dress in period clothing and conduct a traditional (but abbreviated) Christmas Eve service using the 1892 Book of Common Prayer, which would have been used in the Episcopal diocese for this church in the early 1900s.

“We researched what Christmas carols would have been in the prayer book at that time,” says the Rev. Leann Wagner, chaplain of the Canterbury Episcopal Ministry at Texas Tech University. “The tunes are the same, but the wording of the language is a little different.” The group has plans for a short service they will repeat many times throughout both nights as visitors pass through the mission on the way to the next structure.

Many community and campus organizations as well as musical groups will join volunteers in the historic structures to welcome guests to Candlelight at the Ranch. Visitors can purchase refreshments in the decorated 1908 Four Sixes Barn while they listen to Brazos West play Christmas music with a Texas swing. Kettle Korn will be available on the patio, and Santa Claus will be receiving visitors in the Pitchfork Pavilion.

The Rhinestone Quartet and the Lubbock High School Madrigal Choir will serenade visitors at different locations throughout the park, and Ranch Host volunteer Ken Baake will play his banjo inside the 1888 Matador Half Dugout. A Tap Snap Photo booth will be located in the main gallery of the indoor museum to provide free visitor photos.

The NRHC is located adjacent to the Texas Tech University campus at 3121 Fourth St. For more information, call (806) 742-0498 or view

(Press release from the National Ranching Heritage Center)

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