Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, Hazel Williams, has decorated the door of her unit, starting a tradition that some other co-op members follow. After finishing her door, she decorates the building lobby and first-floor hallway.
When she is satisfied that the exterior looks Christmassy enough, Hazel assembles a Christmas village in her living room. On a platform, covered with an imitation blanket of snow, she sets up a variety of buildings and other structures — some illuminated — in an assortment of shapes, colors, and sizes. A Ferris wheel, a skating pond, seasonal music, and tiny people complete Hazel’s Christmas village. She began constructing the display in the 1980s, after her nephew, Avery, gave her a small church. The village has grown larger each year and is now reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. (Click on the picture above for a larger view.)
Hazel is not just a building-decorating-Ms. Santa-Clause, her contributions to the co-op extend throughout the years. Shortly after moving to Florian Gardens in the mid-seventies, she became the self-appointed, resident horticulturist, initially cultivating a small flower plot alongside the building in which she lives. After the property was renovated — long before FGC hired a professional landscaper — Hazel began purchasing and planting Vincas in the flowerbeds located between two of the buildings.
Planting flowers wasn’t her only act of neighborliness. Before the property was purchased and converted Hazel assumed the job of caretaker for the building where she lives, and on any day she could be seen sweeping the hallways, picking up trash, and doing whatever else she could do to keep her building clean.
During her 30-plus years of residency at Florian Gardens, Hazel has taken time to perform numerous acts of benevolence by visiting ailing co-op neighbors in the hospital or bringing home cooked meals to their home. New members who moved in to her building frequently found a “Welcome” sign and a gift package from Hazel hanging on their doorknob when they arrived.
Hazel’s goodwill extends beyond Florian Gardens. Throughout the years, she has participated in countless church activities and volunteered at various organizations including a rape crisis center. For a while, she also served as a reading tutor at the Washington Literacy Council. Until a few years ago, she purchased toiletries and other items and used them to fill numerous Christmas gift bags which she then delivered to residents at the Rock Creek Manor Nursing Home. An unsung advocate for the homeless, Hazel currently orchestrates a similar project for Christ House, a homeless shelter for the sick. Street Sense, the homeless newspaper is also a recipient of her generosity. And for nearly a dozen years the energetic humanitarian participated in the annual Fannie Mae Homeless Walk on the National Mall.
As was revealed in the very first post of this blog, Hazel was one of the co-founders of the FG Tenants Association and instrumental in the purchase of the property.
In 2001, Hazel and her close-knit sisters were featured in Julia Chance’s book titled Sister Friends.