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Issue Date: December 2008

Airy Christmas

Fifty inflatables will adorn the Onofrey family’s home this year.
Caitlin Johnson
Like Prince and Michael Jackson during the ’80s, the Hennie and Onofrey families are masters of their craft, both striving to be known as the best. Their artistic medium just happens to be inflatable holiday decorations.

If you live in Westlake, you already know these homes. The Onofreys live near the intersection of Detroit and Clague roads, and the Hennies live on Westwood Drive, near the Fairview Park line. The houses are hard to miss.

“They’re eye-catching,” says Steve Onofrey, explaining his inflatable obsession, which started with a single Frankenstein in 1997. This year, he set up 38 blow-up decorations for Halloween and expects to break out 50 for Christmas.

The Hennie family, on the other hand, put up 78 inflatables for Halloween and will likely display more than 100 this month. Tillie Hennie says she got the bug when she bought her first blow-up ghost nearly a decade ago. “We get a lot of the buses that take the elderly,” Tillie says of her home’s admirers. “They’ll drive by, and they’ll turn around. They’ll stop in front.”

Tillie and her husband, Mike, blame each other for the fixation, but they say there is just too much positive feedback to stop. That’s why, a month before every Christmas, Mike can be found assembling another elaborate display outside.

As Tillie’s mother, Valerie Baka says, “He’s happy to make people happy.”

* Not Just for Christmas Anymore: The Onofreys also put up a few inflatables for Easter and Thanksgiving, while the Hennies have them for almost every holiday, including St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

* The Cost: Delilah Onofrey says the family’s electric bill jumps about $100 a month during the Halloween and Christmas months. The Hennies say their bill sometimes reaches $200.

* Sheer Numbers: The Onofreys own 110 inflatables. The Hennies have more than 300.

* What the Neighbors Say: The Onofreys have no problems. The Hennies say one neighbor complains. Capt. Guy Turner of the Westlake PD says the last holiday-display-related complaint on record is more than 15 years old and not related to either home. Since then, Turner says, “the grinchiness factor has declined.”

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