What’s Up South Texas!: Woman’s White House ornament collection blends love of Christmas and country

Army veteran’s wife collects White House Christmas ornaments

A San Antonio woman collects White House ornaments, blending her love of Christmas and the United States.

San Antonio – A San Antonio veteran’s wife is sharing her love for her country through her patriotic Christmas ornaments.

Mary Gustine has been collecting White House Christmas ornaments since 1985.

“My husband came in from a trip to Washington where he was still on active duty,” Gustine said. “During that time, he came in with a Christmas ornament and I thought it was absolutely beautiful.”

That simple gift started her beautiful collection.

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“It started my White House Historical Association White House ornament collection to where I have collected them every year,” Gustine said. “They started making them in 1981 and I was fortunate enough to get the early ones.”

Gustine, who is a retired teacher, said it was her calling to teach and share her passion for America’s history.

Gustine standing with her students (KSAT)

“At some point, in the early 90s, I took a group of middle school children in Huntsville Alabama to Washington DC,” Gustine laughed. “It wasn’t the wisest thing. I picked up every single ornament I was lacking then.”

She said she has 40 Christmas ornaments now.

“One year, in 2000, they did one in honor of the 200th birthday of the White House,” Gustine said. “I have just been fortunate enough to tour the White House during Christmas. It belongs to all Americans and the history needs to be reserved.”

Gustine said her husband, James Gustine, served 26 years in the Army.

“Air Defense,” Gustine said. “First to fire! He retired in 1994. I went to all of his duty assignments.”

Mary with her husband (KSAT)

She said before traveling the world with her husband and teaching in other countries as a part of the overseas program during tours, she was born and raised in the great state of Texas.

“I was actually born in Bexar County right after the war,” Gustine said. I spent time in all the smaller communities, so I know Texas pretty well. I am a Texan through and through.”

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She said, for the most part, she and her husband’s life has been wonderful. However, she has had her ups and downs.

“I lost my mother and father the same year,” Gustine said. “My mom in January and my dad in May, years ago. That was one of the low points just because it happened so quickly, and they were young. They were in their early 60s and we had not been married that long in Germany.”

A photo taken of Mary Gustine's parents (KSAT)

Gustine said she feels her collection would make her parents proud.

“I think they would be proud of this patriotic tradition and of course my years I spent teaching,” Gustine said. “But they would be proud of the support and passion I have for our nation and our soldiers. For us military spouses, we cherish peace almost more than anyone. Because we have the most to lose and so we seek peace because we know our spouses are doing a very important job.”

The couple has been living at the Army Residence Community since 2013, and each year, she has shared her assortment of White House Ornaments for a special reason.

Mary Gustine posing with her husband (KSAT)

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the present,” Gustine said. “It is all something about the history of the White House and I think that is what I would like people to get is that there is so much history in this country. There is so much history in this city. It has nothing to do about politics. It has everything to do about being an American.”

She said as she continues this tradition of sharing her joy for America through Christmas, she hopes others are inspired as well.

“Just embrace this season,” Gustine said. “You know, it doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are or non-religious beliefs because Christmas is just about love.”

An up-close White House ornament (KSAT)

If you know someone like Gustine who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray is a reporter with KSAT12 News.