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Claus & effects

With a yard full of moving holiday decorations, former Medford music teacher is still leader of the band

Ron Bartlett has taken holiday yard decorations to a new level: His are interactive.

There are three stations, said Bartlett, who turns 74 on Dec. 30. Passengers can lean out car windows at his home at 2127 E. Jackson St. in Medford and push buttons to activate musical scenes at each station.

The first one is a marching band. The second one is singing. The third is a sax quartet that plays along with me, said Bartlett on a recent evening, wearing his Santa outfit and holding his alto saxophone.

Bartlett and his wife, Gloria, are among many Rogue Valley residents who deck their yards with strands of lights and festive scenes, but theirs may be the only one around with groups of hip-wiggling, saxophone-playing Santas wearing red jackets and sunglasses, playing jazzy versions of Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells.

I was a band teacher at Hedrick (Middle School) for 34 years, and when I saw these saxophone Santas I thought, 'Oh I have to have that,' said Bartlett, who was one of the founders of the Britt Music Festival in 1963.

So three years ago, Bartlett bought 30 12-inch-tall plastic figures and began rigging his gig. This is his second season with the jazzy old elves.

Bartlett, who has been playing the sax for 66 years, has rewired the Santas to play in unison to the music when he hits a button with his foot.

These are my little robots, he said.

The retired band teacher will even match the note of a passing car horn.

When someone asks Bartlett how many years he's had a festive yard, he points to his 24-foot-tall evergreen tree and says, We started when that tree was 4 feet high.

For some Rogue Valley residents and their visitors, the Bartletts' yard is a tradition.

We come every year, said Dale Eller of Medford.

Bartlett steps up to the car window and plays a holiday tune for the Ellers.

While the Ellers' Boston terrier, Lucy, and 17-year-old son, Aaron, look on apprehensively, Dale and his wife, Deanna, and their 4-year-old daughter, Alexis, are thrilled with the serenading.

I just think this is the nicest yard, said Dale.

He said they drive by several times every year.

If we have family coming up, we always stop here, too.

Gloria Bartlett, 64, said she's thankful to have such an interesting spouse.

I'd be bored with a husband who just sat around, she said.

Gloria, who met Ron in 1964 in a class and taught at Roosevelt Elementary School in the late '60s, said her husband is always tinkering and fixing things.

He was putting a sink in someone's house today, she said.

She describes him as someone who easily invents solutions.

He can make something out of nothing, she said.

When the car broke down one time, he took pantyhose and made a fan belt. Pantyhose make the best fan belts.

Gloria said the thing she and Ron get the biggest kick out of is watching people's reactions, even on the nights when Ron's not out in the yard entertaining.

We've had people coming to our door to thank us, she said.

We've had people bring him hot chocolate and bring him pizza. Everyone's been so nice.

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Dressed in his Santa suit, Ron Bartlett plays his alto saxophone along with miniature jazz elves in a modified golf cart parked in front of his E. Jackson Street home. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell