Homes: Well-known holiday house holds 45 years of Christmas memories

photo by: Mike Yoder

Wayne and Donna Osness sit in the living room of their home at 1654 University Drive, along with their dog Katie.

People keep asking when Donna Osness and her husband are going to sell the house. But for her five children, nine grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, the Osness home on University Drive is the heart of the holiday season.

“Of our grandchildren, I don’t think any of them have spent Christmas Eve anywhere but this house,” Donna said. “They are all very protective of it. This is home.”

About this feature

Journal-World Reporter Dylan Lysen features interesting Lawrence homes on a monthly basis. If you think you have a home that could be featured, please contact Dylan at Submitting a home does not guarantee it will be featured.

Donna and her husband, Wayne Osness, a professor emeritus of health, sport and exercise sciences at the University of Kansas, have lived in their five-bedroom home at 1654 University Drive for 45 years.

The main floor of the home has four living spaces and a dining room — a “music room” that serves as den and a secondary entrance; an informal dining room area that also includes a small lounge area and a television; the proper dining room with a chandelier; the home’s main living room; and a “garden room,” which was originally an outdoor porch.

But for many in the Lawrence community, the home is best known for its holiday decorations. Each year, Donna fills all those living spaces with a litany of Christmas trees and other adornments.

In fact, the Osness house has two garages — one for the family’s cars, and one to store all of Donna’s Christmas decorations.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The home of Donna and Wayne Osness, located at 1654 University Drive.

Many people in Lawrence have seen the house in its holiday splendor because Donna and a friend helped found the Lawrence Holiday Homes Tour, a benefit for Heartland Community Health Center that gives tourgoers a chance to see historic homes and their elaborate decorations each year.

“There are homes the people would like to be in and see,” she said.

This year’s tour is from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at

photo by: Mike Yoder

A display of winter figurines adds holiday cheer to a large family room at the home of Wayne and Donna Osness. The house is known for its many Christmas decorations.

The Osnesses have not participated in the tour for the past few years, however. Donna said she just did not have the energy to do it anymore.

“We said, ‘Somebody else is going to have the joy of doing this,'” Donna said.

“A labor of love”

The house was originally constructed in 1940, when the neighborhood was just grassy fields. When the Osnesses bought it in 1973, it was in “dire need” of love, Donna said.

“It had been rented, mistreated and looked very sad,” she said. “When we came into it, I fell in love with it. I could see past the things that needed to be done to it. It was all really just cosmetic.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Holiday decorations sit on a table in the home of Donna and Wayne Osness.

Donna said a chandelier in the dining room was hanging from the ceiling on two wires, the ceiling in a hallway was falling down because of water damage, and the stairway railings were falling apart, among other issues.

“It wasn’t an easy fix,” she said. “It was a labor of love, really.”

While the kids — four daughters and a son — were growing up, they were expected to help fix the house. Wayne and Donna did the big projects, but all of the kids eventually became wall-painting masters.

“When their friends came over, they would say, ‘Be careful, don’t bump the wall. I worked hard on that,'” Donna said.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A decorative table centerpiece and two Christmas trees decorate the dining room at the home of Wayne and Donna Osness.

The entire family has fond memories of the house, Donna said. And although it’s no longer open for tours during the holiday season, it will soon be full and lively when the family comes to celebrate Christmas.

“Ten or 11 months out of the year we don’t need this big house, but for one month we need every inch of it,” Donna said. “So no, we’re not going to sell it.”

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photo by: Mike Yoder

A garland decorates a stairway railing lined with family photographs in the home of Donna and Wayne Osness.

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A collection of nutcrackers, started in the 1960s, lines the mantle in the home of Donna and Wayne Osness.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A collection of Santa figurines fills a tabletop in the home of Donna and Wayne Osness.

photo by: Mike Yoder

One of Donna Osness’ childhood sleds hangs in the family room of the Osness home.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Wayne and Donna Osness, at right, have several Christmas trees in their home. This one is located near the fireplace in the large family room.


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