By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
Outside of public tours, there aren’t many people who get to walk the halls of the White House, let alone decorate them.
Wyoming state Rep. Chad Banks, D-Rock Springs, was recently given that opportunity as one of about 150 people chosen to help set up First Lady Jill Biden’s “We the People” seasonal White House holiday decorations.
“Everywhere you look you’re reminded of history, and the honor associated with the building and how valuable it is to our country,” Banks said.
A Rare Opportunity
Banks had just returned from a White House reception where the decorations were unveiled when he spoke with Cowboy State Daily on Monday afternoon.
At the event, Biden presented the holiday decorations and took a group photo with participating families.
“As our country gathers for the holidays, traditions may vary, but our shared American values – a belief in possibility, optimism and unity – endure season after season,” President Joe Biden and Jill Biden wrote in a welcome letter in the White House holiday guide.
Banks had to apply to participate in the unpaid opportunity. He cited his experience in event planning as one of his qualifications for the job.
“I’ve done event planning for everything from a few dozen people to tens of thousands,” he said.
Every year, the White House solicits volunteers to help set up holiday decorations. It was the first public holiday decoration offered during the Biden administration, as the public aspect of the activity was restricted in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns.
Biden’s holiday decorations appear homier than the luxurious spread assembled by former First Lady Melania Trump.
In The East Wing
Banks spent 10 hours a day for three days working at the White House, a process in which the volunteers were not allowed to take photos documenting their progress.
He played a key role in transforming the East Colonnade into a wintry birch tree forest. Banks helped string 5,000 round, white pompom ornaments to faux birch trees and strung crystal droplets from the ceiling.
“Those were 40,000 dime-sized mirrors,” he said of the droplets.
They even added fake snow to the ground.
His work was on full display for all to see as attendees had to pass through the Colonnade to get to Monday’s reception.
Despite it being one of the most secure and historically significant buildings in the nation, Banks said he and the other volunteers “pretty much had a run of the place,” aside from accessing the Oval Office and the Bidens’ private quarters.
He said the White House hallways looked a lot more like a holiday workshop while the decorations were being assembled, but by the time of the reception had regained their full pomp and circumstance.
Every room in the East Wing had a different theme.
The State Dining Room featured a “We The Children” display with self-portraits created by students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year from across the nation fashioned into ornaments for the room’s Christmas trees.
There was another Wyoming connection on display in the East Room. Here, four national park– Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah – were highlighted.
Only Wyoming Volunteer
Banks said there were volunteers from every state, but he was the only one he was aware of from Wyoming.
As the Marine Band belted out classic holiday songs in the Grand Foyer, Banks and the other volunteers got to bask in the results of their work and mingle with Gold Star and National Guard military families, a surreal moment for the Rock Springs resident.
“It was really interesting,” he said.
Will Be Seen By Thousands
Over the next few weeks, the People’s House will be visited by an expected 50,000 visitors for tours and more than 20 holiday receptions.
It wasn’t Banks’ first visit to the White House. In June, Banks, who is openly gay, attended a reception at the White House celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month.
He lost his reelection bid earlier this month to Republican J.T. Larson.