Illustration by Katie McBride

Every December, after the last day of classes but before fall semester exams, the home of Reed, R’76, and Terrie Payne West, W’75, transforms. Large, lit candy canes adorn the yard, a wreath hangs on the door, and poinsettias and holiday decorations ornament the rooms.

Soon, dozens of Richmond theater and dance students, faculty, and their families arrive, taking turns filling plates with Reed’s home-cooked roast smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts with pecans and maple syrup, and so many brought desserts that some lucky students will leave with treats. The mood is both calm and lively with chatter, laughter, and festive group photos on the hallway stairs.

“The students like it,” says Reed, professor emeritus of theater.

He and Terrie — who met and married while students at UR — have carried on the tradition since 1986, its legacy woven deeply into their family history. Reed’s father, the late Warwick “Rick” West, a longtime UR biology professor, hosted similar events when Reed was a child. So when as a professor Reed was asked by another faculty member to take up the holiday dinner mantle, the concept was familiar to him.

Terrie was pregnant with son Hank West, ’10, at the very first dinner they hosted. In the years to come, Hank was passed around parties from arm to arm until he could walk, run, and play during the festivities — often with other faculty’s children, for whom Terrie always set out toys.

As the years went on, the Wests went to great lengths to keep the event accessible and comfortable. Neither snowstorm, nor travels, nor hospitalization ever got in its way. Reed once peeled potatoes the day after having surgery for appendicitis. Terrie once decorated the house with 5-year-old Hank while Reed was in London for the opening of a show. Both drove food to campus so students wouldn’t have to contend with icy, weather-worn roads. In recent years, they’ve taken care to provide vegetarian and gluten-free options on the crowded dining table.

University dancer Mira Carroll, ’20, overhearing the Wests discuss the tradition, enthusiastically affirmed the event’s reputation among students. It took only a moment for her to find a photo on her phone of students pressed together on the stairs wearing everything from formalwear to oversized red-and-green sweaters and headbands with reindeer antlers, all smiling as though caught mid-laugh.

“Everyone would speak about how important this Christmas party was to them, and after my freshman year, I understood why,” she said. “I’ve been every year except when I was studying abroad, and I wished I was here instead.”