Looks like Christmas

Decorator Supply celebrates its 50th year this year. Owner Angie Wray is known for her lavish Christmas window displays. The store, along with other downtown businesses, will be open Friday evening for Iola's annual Holiday Block Party.

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November 30, 2022 - 2:42 PM

Angie Wray looks over Christmas decorations in front of the window at her business, Decorator Supply, 102 N. Washington. The downtown fixture is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Photo by Richard Luken

Angie Wray has developed a reputation for her lavish window displays for Christmas.

The lights, of course, are a sight to behold.

Her storefront windows at Decorator Supply are a testament to her creativity, aglow with twinkling curtain lights at the corner of Jackson and Washington avenues, in front of an array of reindeer, Christmas trees and fresh garland, purchased new this year.

But the display deserves more than a passing glance, particularly the model trucks and cars she proudly shows off. All were made by hand by her father, Wayne Jackson, through the years.

Each is a piece of work unto itself, those ornate wood carvings shaped to the tiniest detail. He even added upholstery to one of the vehicles.

A few passersby have asked if they’re available for purchase. (They’re not.)

Rather, the display is all part of helping ring in the holidays in style.

Wray, like several other downtown merchants, will be open Friday evening for Iola’s annual Holiday Block Party.

She’ll greet customers with treats from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday as they check out her store’s wide selection of floor and wall coverings.

And while decorating for the holidays takes hours of planning and ensuring each piece is in its proper spot, truth is, Wray wouldn’t want it any other way.

“This is my favorite part,” she admitted this week. “I love the lights.”

She recalls with a sheepish grin a local effort a few years back to add Christmas lights aplenty to downtown Iola.

“If they want Christmas lights, they’ll get ‘em,” Wray laughed.

Angie Wray’s father, Wayne Jackson, carves wooden model trucks such as this one. Note the detail of the upholstery.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

DECORATOR Supply has been a part of Iola’s downtown business scene for 50 years, ever since Wayne moved to Iola from Chanute in 1972, where he worked as a paint salesman but was eager to run his own business.

Jackson originally set up shop across the square on Jefferson Avenue, where the Pregnancy and Family Center is today, primarily as a paint store, but soon expanded to include draperies.

Angie was in the fourth grade, and while she spent many an afternoon walking to the store after school, she admittedly had little interest in joining the family business after graduation.

Instead, she worked briefly at Town & Country Western Casual Wear while in high school, before joining the ANW Special Education Cooperative to work with elementary school-aged pupils.

“I loved the job,” she said, and likely would have stayed had the pay been better.

However, that changed in the infamous 1986 inland hurricane that devastated much of Allen and Coffey counties.

With several homes badly damaged in the storm, demand was high  for paint and flooring materials.

“They were slammed,” Wray recalled, “so I started working for them part-time.”

That part-time service soon grew, as did Wray’s affinity for painting and hanging wall coverings.

Fast forward about 20 years, and she eventually took over the business from her parents.

While mother Norma retired for good a few years back, Wayne continues to help out every day.

“He still comes in each morning at 8,” Wray said.

WRAY’S workload has altered in recent years after she enderwent two back surgeries, the first time in 2015, to fuse together two damaged vertebrae.

She suspects the second surgery may have led to other health complications after doctors had difficulty inserting, and then removing a breathing tube, for the surgery.

Not long after, Wray endured long stretches of laryngitis. A specialist ultimately determined her vocal cords were damaged, necessitating a third surgery and extended recovery date.

The surgery meant being unable to talk at all for several weeks afterward. She jokes the episode allowed her to garner a skill at rapidly writing up messages on a small white board for her family and coworkers.

Wray was seemingly on the mend until she suffered a stroke in January 2020, which as fate would have it, occurred just blocks from the hospital while she was eating lunch in Garnett.

Within minutes, doctors were able to pinpoint the cause of the stroke, and administered drugs to quickly dissolve a blood clot that reached her brain.

Had they not acted so quickly, Wray suspects paralysis may have resulted.

One nurse noted partial paralysis on the side of her face when Wray arrived at the hospital.

“They didn’t tell me that immediately,” she said. “I’m glad they didn’t.”

She spent a few days in ICU, and recovered quickly enough, but then had to undergo months of physical therapy, and was unable to drive for another year and a half, instead relying on family or her partner, Jon, to transport her to multiple doctor appointments, and then to work in Iola. (She lives in a farmhouse in northern Allen County.)

Wray had already set up Decorator Supply’s computer system in her home prior to the stroke so she could work remotely while convalescing from her back and throat surgeries.

“And that’s probably best,” she laughed. “I find when I’m here at work, I almost never am able to do paperwork.”

That’s not because of any medical ailment. Rather, it’s because Wray is eager to visit with friends and customers on a daily basis.

Long-time employee Wade Vogel remains a part of the staff to keep things in running order when Wray is gone. And of course, her father still stays busy with his 88th birthday coming up in December.

And there’s no thought of slowing down. She still figures up all estimates for potential customers.

“I enjoy it,” she admits. 

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