The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 23, 2011

Despite painful condition, Mankato woman wins Christmas card art contest

Marcelline Babcock disliked her Christmas card so much, she tried to throw it in the trash.

The 77-year-old resident of The Lutheran Home: Cedar Haven in Mankato has an inoperable case of carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. Doctors have told her the surgery required to fix the narrow tunnel on the underside of her wrists isn’t safe.

And so she lives with the debilitating pain and weakness, “hardly able to pick up a puzzle piece,” she said with a note of resignation, for puzzles are one of her favorite activities.

Still, she was willing to give it a try when the time came for Cedar Haven residents to participate in The Lutheran Home Association’s annual Christmas card design contest.

The Lutheran Home Association — which operates assisted-living facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin — has a Christmas card mailing list of more than 27,000. Since 1995, the association has used clients’ artwork to grace the front of its Christmas greeting.

The guidelines are simple: All artwork must be created by the client on a white sheet of paper with no assistance and no touch-up.

And, most importantly, no attempt is discarded.

“When I couldn’t hardly do it,” Babcock recalled, “I said, ‘Throw it away.’ But they told me that’s not allowed.”

Of course, Babcock’s artwork turned out to be the contest winner — an acclaim that afforded her a somewhat uncomfortable share of the spotlight.

“I’ve never liked to be out in the public,” said the Wells native. “But I’m very proud for Cedar Haven.”

Babcock said she has never entered an art contest. In fact, she said, her own artistic abilities pale in comparison to many others in her family.

Of Babcock’s nine siblings, she said many were talented artists. Her nearly blind sister still paints. Babcock displays one of her works — a colorfully and delicately rendered water scene where the division between wave and horizon is nearly indistinguishable between a frame of trees — on the wall in her room. Another of her sisters fashions handmade Christmas decorations.

Of Babcock’s eight children, one is a hobby artist who actually painted her dorm hallway in college. Another of her children is an architect who eschews the typical computer-aided design methods, preferring instead to design by hand.

“Creativity just runs in our family,” said Babcock’s daughter, Jolene Schilling.

Babcock is the fourth Cedar Haven resident to win the Christmas card contest. And already she’s been asked if she’ll enter the contest again next year.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said with a playful smile. “I’ve got to come up with some ideas.”

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