By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
NORTH BALTIMORE — It already looks a lot like Christmas at one South Main Street house in North Baltimore.
The 142-year-old home is festively decorated with green wreaths, red bows and sparkling lights. There are also a total of 21 evergreen trees on the porches, patio, roofs and even up on the widow’s walk atop the second story.
“I think of it as my Christmas gift to the town,” said homeowner Ralph Wolfe Jr.
Wolfe, 88, a retired English professor, said Christmas is one of his favorite holidays, and red is his favorite color.
“Men can’t wear red too much, but it’s seasonal,” he confided.
On this occasion, Wolfe sported a plush, long-sleeved red shirt. And he looked quite at home inside the elegant residence that is festooned with hundreds of red bows and ornaments, evergreens, stockings, bells, angels, Santa Claus figurines and nutcrackers of all shapes and sizes.
But there is no indoor tree; there’s no room, Wolfe insisted. For the past 10 years, he has hosted a gathering for fellow retirees from Bowling Green State University, sometimes attracting upwards of 75 people, and a tree, he said, “takes up space.”
Wolfe does enjoy one lighted evergreen tree that stands on a side patio and is visible through the bay window of his dining room.
“I call that my ‘inside-outside tree,'” he said.
Wolfe has lived in the home for most of 60 years, since his father bought it in 1959. There have been some structural changes over the years, including the addition of a sunroom off the kitchen, a downstairs bathroom and a central front hallway.
He can often be found sitting in the sunroom.
“I can see the morning sun and the west sun. I can enjoy the outdoors while being indoors,” he said.
Wolfe’s father was also named Ralph, but everyone called him “Red.”
“He always referred to himself as a red-headed Irishman. He had red hair and freckles and his mother was Irish,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe was the fifth child and the only son born to Ralph “Red” and Mary Brickle Wolfe. They tried to get his sister to call him “brother” but it came out “Buddy.” The nickname stuck.
“So I was Buddy, even through high school,” said Wolfe. “When I went to the university, I started calling myself Ralph. But people here in town still call me Buddy.”
Wolfe said his mother didn’t do elaborate decorating for the holidays. She was busy caring for five children and helping her husband at the eatery they owned next to the railroad called the M and R Restaurant.
After the elder Wolfe died in 1966, Mary wanted to stay in North Baltimore, but she didn’t want to live alone. So Wolfe, who was then teaching at Indiana State University, applied for a position at Bowling Green State University.
“I didn’t think they’d hire me because I have two degrees from there, but they did,” he said. “So I’ve always been grateful about that.”
He taught 19th century British literature and then helped develop a film studies program.
Wolfe lived in the family home with his mother until she died in 1975. After that, he thought about moving to Bowling Green.
“But I looked around and I thought, ‘I don’t know that I’d have a house I like any better than this one, so I can commute.’ And that’s what I did,” he said.
Wolfe retired from BGSU in 1998 with a total of 44 years of teaching credit, including his two years of military service and the years he worked as a graduate assistant.
“When I quit teaching, I noticed the first difference,” he said. “When I’d get up in the morning when I was teaching, I knew the schedule for the day. And once I retired, I didn’t know it until night, and I liked it better.”
The days still fill up, he noted, “but it’s all what they call ad hoc, and it’s very interesting.”
Wolfe stays busy and physically active. He does his own house cleaning and keeps things weeded outside. He also sweeps the streets around his house to keep his hometown looking nice. He was named North Baltimore’s Citizen of the Year in 2015.
“The only thing I don’t like to do is mow lawns, because I think it’s boring,” he said.
He puts flowers out in the spring and fall.
“That’s about the only decorating I do until Christmas, and then I probably go overboard,” he said.
Wolfe has always decorated the outside of the two-story home, but about 10 years ago decided it would be fun to add a Christmas tree to the top on the widow’s walk. His maintenance man, John Rensch, complied with a 9-foot-tall tree.
“I said, ‘That looks dinky. Can’t we put up a bigger tree?'” Wolfe recalled. “But he said it couldn’t be any larger because of the wind.”
That was the start of it. The next year he added trees to the porch.
“I just kept adding. Then two years ago I thought, ‘Ah, the 12 trees of Christmas’. And I had 12 trees at the time,” he said.
This year, there are 21 artificial trees, all of which are secured with wire to prevent falling victim to any December gales. The trees measure between 6 and 12 feet in height. They go up right after Thanksgiving, with Wolfe noting that it took Rensch and five helpers about three days to get everything in place.
“He has a friend with a lift that they use to lift the trees up,” Wolfe explained. “So it’s all handled very, very methodically.”
Strands of lights decorate the wreaths and trees.
After the holidays, everything will be disassembled, packed away and stored in the basement.
Wolfe does all of his own decorating inside. Each room has festive touches, right down to the holiday hand towels that hang in the bathroom.
“It doesn’t take long to do,” he said. “I have a box for each space. And I store those in the garage loft. I can do it in a couple of days.”
In the past, Wolfe has put up a tree inside. “But that was before I got interested in putting things on the roof,” he chuckled.
Everything will come down Jan. 1.
“By then, I start to think of it as a little bit of clutter. Of course, I’m a neatnik anyway,” he said.
Wolfe said he gets a lot of positive comments from the community about his holiday display.
“Some people over the years have said, ‘Oh, you should have tours.’ And I think, ‘No, I don’t think so,'” he said. “I said, ‘It’s the outside that’s spectacular.'”