OKMULGEE, Oklahoma - It's a yearly tradition to decorate the White House for Christmas. It's a big job that takes dozens of volunteers. This year one of them was an 84-year-old Okmulgee woman. Though Hazel Rissler will tell you, she’s not your typical 84 year old. 

“God just granted me good health, and I like to do things and I like to volunteer,” Hazel said.

Signs of the season are in every room of Hazel's home.

“I think Christmas all year,” Hazel said. “I love Christmas.” 

She also loves to decorate for Christmas and makes most of her decorations herself. The most special, perhaps, is the tree skirt she made with her late husband's neckties.

“It also looks really great on the dining room table with a centerpiece in the middle,” she said.

Her creativity, along with her love for Christmas, are likely why Hazel was invited to help decorate the White House.

“It was exciting. I had a fun time doing everything,” Hazel said.

It's a tradition that started in 1889. Hazel says it was forgotten for a while and then Jackie Kennedy started it up again. 

In recent years, HGTV aired a special about the White House’s transition to Christmas and the volunteers who help make it happen. Hazel has always wanted to go. She mentioned it to her son, Paul, then he and his wife spent all winter and spring working on the application. 

Out of 8,000 applications, Hazel was one of 93 accepted. Paul called her in mid-October with the good news.

“He said, 'Well, sit down mother, you've been accepted,’” Hazel recalled.
She says Paul was so confident she'd be selected, he bought her tickets to Washington D.C. before she'd even been invited to volunteer. Hazel admits she did some shopping ahead of time, too.

“I got eight new Christmas sweaters. I had one for every day,” Hazel said.

One was an OSU sweater. She also took an Oklahoma State ornament with her. It hung on one of the White House trees briefly, but it couldn’t stay because it didn’t go with the color scheme.

In all, Hazel spent 10 days in Washington D.C., a week of that was at the White House decorating, helping create mantle masterpieces, stringing ornaments for garland and, more than anything, just taking it all in.

“When you walk those halls, you just feel so little, everything is just so great there,” Hazel said. “Just knowing who has walked through those doors. It is our White House and what it represents.”

She saw Michelle Obama when the First Lady came down to thank the volunteers. She also got a glimpse of the president when he left the White House one day. 

“We saw his back and of course, the good looking Marines that escorted him out,” she said.

Her last night was spent at a White House reception with her son, Paul, who helped her get there.

Hazel calls it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, although she hopes she might get the opportunity a second time.
“I'd go back in a heartbeat. They act like they like me,” she said laughing.

She says some have been volunteers have been selected more than once, so she plans to apply again next year. Part of the application process includes a 2,000-word letter. She also submitted pictures of her decorations.