SHERIDAN — One house in Sheridan County receives the most visits and rivals any attempted Griswold exterior decoration scheme.
Kaye Penno, who transitioned from a full-time interior decorator to full-time county coroner after moving from Las Vegas, still shares her craft of creativity with the community through a thorough display of Christmas decorations in every room of her home.
When Penno’s grandmother passed away, a coroner completed the task of taking her grandmother’s body from her home to the funeral home. Since then, Penno, a young girl at the time, desired to one day become a coroner. Before fulfilling that dream, Penno worked as an interior decorator in Las Vegas. She ran a design business where she decorated rooms and homes for Christmas and other themes throughout the year.
She learned the business not through school, but a seasoned mentor. When she moved to Sheridan, she became a deputy county coroner and moved into the brown home right next to Kane Funeral Home — a stone’s throw away from work.
With no husband or kids to spend money on, Penno started accumulating a stash of Christmas decorations, mainly from Real Deals in Sheridan. Only a few pieces of her now boisterous collection traveled with her from Las Vegas.
Her vast love for Christmas propelled her to decorate every room in her home from top to bottom, creating themes to include nearly every aspect of the holiday season.
Red, green, white and blue signs bearing sayings like “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” and “Have a holly, jolly Christmas,” greet visitors upon entering through the front door. To the left, a Christmas tree filled with snowmen catches the eye. The kitchen features a fake-snow-laden hot chocolate station, as well as 56 Santa Clauses and 17 snowmen in various forms. Cooled warming lamps linger from the previous days’ spirited visitors on the back porch.
Downstairs in the living room, a 1954 vintage record player sits ready to turn one of 45 Christmas records stocked inside.
One question reoccurs for Penno every year — Why do it?
It takes Penno three weeks to remove her year-round décor and “put Christmas up,” with the same amount of time spent for deconstruction of the entire display. But the reactions of the children touring her home keep her doing it each year.
“Those sweet, those little innocent mouths, they say it right from the heart,” Penno said. “They don’t candy-coat anything; it’s sincere. For them to say that, it’s all worth it.”
Penno’s close friend, Brenda Torrens, experienced similar coroner kindness when her husband passed away four years ago from cancer. Penno personally designed Torrens’ husband’s funeral programs and headstone, not a task Penno typically took on for clients as a coroner at the funeral home. Since then, Torrens has experienced Penno’s joy and kindness through the avenue of opening up her home for the holiday.
Torrens enjoys her friend’s decorations a few times throughout the season. She recounted a particular evening when she and her boyfriend reminisced about childhood Christmases in Penno’s decorated living room. As they sat discussing the memories, Torrens couldn’t help but think how cool touring and experiencing the decorated home would be from the perspective of a child.
Penno estimated 400 people have already toured or spent time in the home this season, with groups planning to return with other friends and coworkers. The entire event started and continues through word of mouth.
“I think it fascinates them because I do every room,” Penno said.
As the decorator-gone-coroner recounted from a 5-year-old visitor, “It’s Christmas at Granny Kaye’s house.”