By Ken Downey Jr. | Correspondent
Puffs of breath could be seen in the cold, early evening air as hundreds rocking back and forth for warmth awaited the annual tree lighting Dec. 2 in front of Eatontown’s Borough Hall.
“We have lived here for 15 years, and we try to make it out every year,” said Eatontown resident Irena Nadeska, 39. “Everything is so beautiful.”
Though the tree was not yet lit, about 10 feet away, an image of the infant Christ basked in the light of the three bulbs angling up from the ground. Standing at more than four feet, a white painted Nativity scene with a sparkling gold star atop the manger adorned the front lawn of Borough Hall, courtesy of St. Dorothea Parish, Eatontown.
“For us, this was a labor of love,” said Dorothy Koenig, whose husband, Robert, was asked to build the wooden Nativity scene.
Robert Koenig, a 70-year-old parishioner and current head of finances – a position he has held for the last six years – enjoys woodworking in his spare time. Koenig previously designed and created a “Keep Christ in Christmas” sign, which stands tall in front of St. Dorothea Church each year.
The Koenigs happily took up the task to create the Nativity scene after Father Charles Schwartz, parish pastor, asked Robert Koenig to reprise his woodworking talents for the parish.
"This is an idea that has been brewing for some time, roughly since 2009,” Father Schwartz said. “I noticed that there was a Menorah and ‘holiday tree’ but no manger scene. I had been told at one point that there was someone who had been responsible in the past, and I did not want to step on anyone's toes, but time went on, and no manger appeared. So I began to discuss our sponsoring one.
“When we saw the woodworking pattern [the parish wanted], we said, ‘This is it!’ Bob [Koenig] offered to do the woodwork, and the Borough Council, many of whom are our parishioners, agreed to our sponsorship."
The Koenigs, who spent the majority of two weeks working on the Nativity set, have an extensive past of working in the field.
“My wife and I renovated a few houses, and even built a house ourselves,” Koenig said. “I remember the first one we renovated, there was a builder across the street, and he taught me everything I know. Now we just enjoy doing things like that ourselves. We never did it to make money; we did it for the fun.”
Koenig has even spent time making signs for the football team for Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.
The Nativity project, Robert Koenig stressed, was a team effort.
“Dorothy sanded it and painted the whole thing, which was worse than cutting it out,” said Koenig. “I used a jigsaw to cut it out; it helps with the detail, especially for all those finger joints. But she was out there on the driveway and in the garage sanding every edge and then painting it over and over – the plywood has two coats.”
When Father Schwartz tasked Robert Koenig with the project, Koenig took it into his own hands to create something he felt would represent his parish proudly.
“When Father Chuck gave me the template, we started and took our time doing it. The template he gave us was for four feet high, but I thought it should be bigger,” Koenig said, explaining that he took the template to a local store to have it increased by 25 percent. In addition, “the template we were given had said we should paint the entire thing either all in black or all in white. But after Father Chuck and I discussed it, we felt that we should give it a little flash.
“And that’s why the star is gold. It came out great,” he said.
The Koenigs have been members of St. Dorothea Parish for about 45 years, during which time Robert Koenig has served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Even after moving from Eatontown to Rumson, the Koenigs make it a point to visit St. Dorothea Parish every week for Mass.
“It’s a nice parish – everyone is like family to us,” said Dorothy Koenig.
With the Nativity prominently on display for the public to view, Father Schwartz said it serves as “a reminder of the real reason we celebrate the holiday – it is a holy day.”