Every year in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, an enormous nativity scene pops up overnight in the DePaul Center on the Loop Campus. Evergreen trees stand covered in sparkling ornaments; a stable shines, trimmed with garland and lights; wise men, shepherds and barn animals huddle around an infant Jesus. Though it may seem Christmas elves are responsible for the display, it really is the work of facility operations manager Sophie Kosmala and her team.
"We started this tradition 10 years ago and it grows with each holiday season," says Kosmala, who joined the Facility Operations team in 1989. "It really is one of the highlights of my job; I look forward to it every year."
Kosmala and workers from the Millard Group, a janitorial services company, spend hours deep in the basement of the DePaul Center carefully opening and unpacking dozens of boxes. Kosmala and Maria Babicz, a manager at the Millard Group who has worked closely with Kosmala and DePaul for the last 23 years, try to add new items to the collection each year. Many of the ornaments are even handmade by Babicz.
"People often donate spare change to the display," Babicz says. "At the end of the season, we take that money and look for ways to improve our nativity for everyone to enjoy."
As a facility operations manager, Kosmala's job description includes oversight of the Loop Campus' custodial operations, such as overnight heavy cleaning operations, landscaping the plaza outside the DePaul Center, window cleaning, snow removal and, of course, decking out the DePaul Center for the holidays. Some may think getting into the holiday spirit before Thanksgiving is a bit early, but Kosmala explains it's to make sure students and faculty can see the display before departing for DePaul's six-week winter break.
"Many people, even some outside of the university community, look forward to this nativity set. We get compliments all the time," she says. "We try to provide people with as much opportunity as possible to grab a glimpse before leaving campus for the holidays, and hopefully add a little cheer to their day."