An Emery native's decorating dream in the White House

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EMERY — By day, Jeremy Jansen is an accountant — but by night, he's decorating.

As Christmas approaches, the Emery native's flare for holiday decor is beginning to show. But this year his talents for interior design was not just wowing his family and friends, but a presidential family.

Jansen, 24, was one of approximately 75 volunteers nationwide to be selected as a decorator for the White House this holiday season. And after working this past week in the halls and rooms of the White House, Jansen knows it's a memory he'll always remember.

"I will never forget it as long as I live. It was so nice to be there and use my talent to be part of something that's so great and so big," Jansen said. "I know that it's only one season, but I just feel like I'm part of the history of the White House in a way."

Jansen spent three days decorating as a volunteer for the White House. Donning a red apron with the phrase "Christmas at the White House 2017," he was tasked with several projects from this past Monday through Wednesday. He returned home for Thanksgiving holiday in Emery shortly after.

"It was very surreal," he said of the experience. "It was like, 'Wow, this is actually happening.' I didn't want to get too hyped up about it beforehand, but I was very excited."

Decorating the White House has always been a dream of Jansen's. Since he was about 10 years old, Jansen said he's tuned into the HGTV "White House Christmas" special that airs each December. The hour-long feature goes through the entire decorating process of the monstrous presidential home on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.

"I used to tell my parents, 'Someday I'm going to do that,' " Jansen said.

Selected in mid-October, Jansen applied in early fall, submitting an essay explaining why he wanted to be a volunteer. And now in his job as a tax accountant at Deloitte company in Minneapolis, Minn., he finally decided to give it a go.

The 2011 graduate from Bridgewater-Emery High School has always been surrounded by avid decorators as both his mother and grandmother love the holiday season. Their passion rubbed off on Jansen, and he began to help as soon as he could.

Home for Thanksgiving this year, Jansen helped with the remaining holiday decorating chores with his mother, Lori. Together, the mother-son duo will also decorate a tree in the high school's recently completed $4.5 million gymnasium. He also will help decorate St. Martin's Catholic Church — another tradition he's enjoyed over the years living in Emery.

"This is completely a hobby," Jansen said, motioning to the holiday decor surrounding him in his family's home south of Emery.

A 'spectacular' display

The apron he wore for his three days in the White House now hangs in his family's home, for all to see.

The memento is something Jansen plans to treasure, and a reminder of his time in the White House. While he can't go into great detail about the decorations, Jansen said he specifically worked on the ornaments and set-up of the Green Room and foyer.

"I will say it's probably the best I've seen in quite awhile," Jansen said. "How it's going to be styled is very true to the White House. I think it's going to be spectacular."

Part of his volunteer work also included working in a warehouse and then transporting items to the White House. Jansen said First Lady Melania Trump was very involved in the overall vision of the decorations while one male official served as the organizer, along with few other staffers. But the rest was left up to volunteers, who had designated tasks.

Provided with pictures for inspiration and an end goal, Jansen got to work with his fellow volunteers who came from 20 different states and varied in experience. Many of the volunteers had military background, while quite a few also had experience in professional decorating serving as florists and interior designers, Jansen said. But there was also several just like him, who find decorating a hobby.

"You're taking something ordinary and making it into something really cool," Jansen said. "... Everything is always different and I like to mix everything up and make everything look brand new without actually buying anything."

His passion to re-envision and recreate came in handy, as he estimates 90 percent of the decorations were used in prior years at the White House. And Jansen loved it, he said, as it enabled his creative side.

"Honestly, it was amazing," he said.

Fulfilling a longtime dream

Although he went to the University of South Dakota in Vermillion for accounting and then later to the University of Minnesota for a master's for the same subject, Jansen's future may include a career revolving around design and landscaping.

Someday, Jansen said, he would like to return to South Dakota, and possibly start his own business. While that is down the road, he's going to relish in his recent accomplishment, and he is already considering applying for the gig again.

While it might not be next year, he plans to encourage his mother to also try. And although he was very skeptical of applying himself this year, he's now learned to "just go for it" and he hopes others will too.

"I've wanted to do this for so long and it is kind of a dream of mine, Jansen said. "Give it a shot. You may or may not succeed but if you don't try, you know you won't."

Jansen is unsure if he'll appear in the 2017 HGTV "White House Christmas" special, but he'll definitely be watching. The air date is still to be determined, but anybody interested can check the program schedule for mid-December, Jansen said.