This Christmas will be the first one in a long time that Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lopus will be spending at home with his wife, Mary, and their four children.
During his 18 years in the Army, the 41-year-old Lopus he has served in Somalia, Haiti, South Korea, Germany, Afghanistan and Iraq. He returned from Iraq in April. And for the second year in a row, his house is being decorated for free by a kindhearted retired Baltimore County police officer.
Rob Schmidt, who lives in Forest Hill, retired about a year and a half ago after 25 years on the Baltimore County force. He started a lawn care business and got involved with an organization called GreenCare for the Troops, a nationwide program connecting lawn businesses with families who have members in the U.S. military serving overseas.
After signing up online, he received a phone call from Mary Lopus, who was seeking lawn help while she juggled care of her children, including 14-year-old Ben, 12-year-old Megan, 10-year-old Matthew and 3-year-old Zachary. Throughout the summer of 2011, Schmidt tended the lawn of the Lopus home in Bel Air.
A little over a year ago, he purchased a franchise of Christmas Decor, which provides holiday decorating. And when the 2011 holiday season rolled around, he offered to decorate the Lopus house for free.
This year, Schmidt has again decorated the Lopus house for the holidays. But things are a bit different now. Jeff is back from Iraq, so he can enjoy his first Christmas home in a long time. The family has moved from Bel Air to Aberdeen Proving Ground. And Schmidt will be partly reimbursed for his good deed through the Decorated Family program of Christmas Decor.
This year, Schmidt called Mary Lopus and asked if he could again decorate her house.
"I contacted Christmas Decor and they said we can do it through the Decorated Family program," said Schmidt. "I said, 'I'm doing it, either way.' "
Schmidt said he typically charges between $500 and $2,500 for holiday decorating that takes several hours to install. The price includes a proposal, the opportunity for the homeowner to make changes, a loan of lights and other festive materials from Christmas Decor, and removal of the entire thing after all the presents are open, the ball drops on New Year's Eve and the holiday season officially ends.
The work at the Lopus residence took about six hours on Dec. 5, Schmidt said. The Lopus family chose red and green lights. Since the family lives in a duplex, Schmidt's firm also decorated the home that makes up the other part of the building. A tree in front is also bright with miniature lights.
"It just looks really nice," said Jeff Lopus. "It's bright. The kids love it."
The lights are on a timer, so they go on when the sky darkens. And because the entire duplex is decorated, "We're the only ones on the street that light up so much," said Jeff Lopus.
"I'm very thankful that there are people like Rob out there," he said. "I think he's doing a great thing."