White House Christmas tree ornament collection makes for a patriotic Christmas

White House Christmas tree ornaments: Irene Bechtler found a way to turn her tree into a tribute to US history - one gold-plated ornament at a time.

Andy Burriss/The Herald/AP
In a Nov. 17, 2010 photo, Irene Bechtler looks at ornaments from the White House Historical Association that decorate her patriotic Christmas tree at her Rock Hill, S.C. home.

Irene Bechtler might have the most patriotic Christmas tree this side of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bechtler found a way to turn her tree into a tribute to U.S. history - one gold-plated ornament at a time.

The 77-year-old Rock Hill woman collects ornaments issued by the White House Historical Association, which produces a series of annual ornaments to represent each of the U.S. presidents.

The collection started with a gift from her nephew Paul Blackwell, a retired three-star Army general.

Blackwell was among the first Americans to enter Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, and his division of 20,000 soldiers, eight of whom were killed in battle, routed Saddam Hussein's most feared troops.

Seeking a way to express pride in her nephew's service, Bechtler decided to turn the tree into a patriotic display.

"I've gone back and researched all the presidents, up to (Barack) Obama," she said. "The older I get, the more I like it (history)."

The collection has grown to 29 ornaments - and Bechtler has plans to add more. She even wrote a letter to the White House Historical Association asking if they could speed up production on more presidential ornaments.

"I won't live long enough to get to 44," she said.

Among the favorites: an ornament honoring Abraham Lincoln that opens up like a locket and another depicting the wedding of Grover Cleveland, the only president to marry in the White House.

Bechtler hired Joyce Wright, a local artist and interior decorator, to decorate the tree and set it up in her living room.

Wright said a white tree makes a better backdrop for the ornaments. And of course, it allows for a red, white and blue theme.

"She was so overwhelmed that she teared up when I brought it in," Wright said. "She was just jumping around. I was worried."

Bechtler is no less excited this Christmas than the day she first saw the tree. She's so proud of the tree that she displays it year-round.

"She's had people come in and look at it constantly," Wright said. "It's always Christmas at her house."

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