Twenty-three years ago, Will Jones said he was talking with a friend who wanted to purchase llamas.

“I asked him why anybody in their right mind would own llamas,” Jones said. “And he asked me, just kind of smiling, ‘well, Will, what would you like?’”

Jones told him he would like to own either a camel or a wallaby, then settled firmly on camel.

Months later, Jones received a phone call from a woman in South Carolina confirming his camel order. Jones laughed about it, confirmed it as a joke, and called his friend to tell him, “you’re good.” Jones said his friend just laughed, and then a month later, the same friend told Jones his camels were now available to view online. Again, Jones thought it was a joke — until his kids searched online and found the camels.

“I didn’t honestly think about it another minute,” Jones said. “And then all of a sudden one night ... I get a call at 10:30 a.m. and the guy says, ‘Hey ... I’m calling because I just want you to know I’ll be at your house in two hours ... I’m bringing the camels.’”

Jones and his family were living in a rental at the time while their house — where Jones, his family and the camels still live — was being built. Stunned, Jones had the presence of mind to ask if the camels had been paid for, only to learn they hadn’t been and that he would need to write their delivery man a check.

According to Jones, the camel delivery man had transferred them across the country and wouldn’t be able to take them back. Jones emptied out the detached garage that was part of the rental and housed the camels in there.

Camels can live to be 50 years old, but Jones said they’ve made pretty good pets. He even bought two more camels of a different breed.

“You can’t just have one kind, you know, you got to have both kinds,” he said. “They’re very (affectionate). They want to be with people.”

Jones began making the rounds in Utah, doing nativities all over the state. He also did camel shows, but said he got tired of answering the same questions over and over again, like “what’s in their humps?” And “do they really spit?”

Jones first got involved with the Alpine Living Nativity a little over 10 years ago. The woman who originally inspired the event, Irene Hayes, was best friends with Jones’s mother, so Jones knew the family well. At first Jones was unavailable because he was booked out two years in advance — but since becoming available he’s been a part of the nativity ever since.

This week, the Alpine Living Nativity — which has been running for the past 16 years — announced it will unfortunately be cancelled this year.

The space where the Alpine Living Nativity has been held for the past decade or so has been developed as a new site for future housing, according to Jones, who has become one of the organizers of the nativity. Although the organization has found a new piece of land on which to hold the nativity in the future that’s in the same neighborhood and is owned by Jones, none of the sets and structures typically used for the nativity have been built.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us and will be unable to finish by December,” the website reads. “We are determined to do what is necessary to insure that it continues next year when the new location is ready!”

The camels, as well as Jones’s horses, sheep and other animals, are living on the future nativity site. They’ll get the year off, unless Jones agrees to participate in a Lehi nativity he said he’s been invited to.

“We may go over and help with those animals ... because it’s amazing. It kind of just helps the whole thing,” Jones said. “There’s about five or six different kinds of animal experiences for the people ... that helps keep a little kid focused. And then by the time they get to the baby, they’re just blown away.”

Jones said he’s had several people reach out to him, expressing their sadness on hearing the nativity is canceled for this year.

“That’s been the hardest part for us, because we love doing it,” Jones said, referring to the other organizers. “We had about 25,000 people come through last year, and a lot of people have come for years ... I’ve had people tell me that (they) have not missed this from the very beginning ... and all of a sudden, there isn’t one for them to come to.”

But, as noted on the website, Jones said the nativity will definitely happen again next December.

Besides the experience, Jones said the thing he will miss the most is the charitable giving that nativity has allowed him and his fellow organizers to do. From the profits raised by selling tickets for just $3, Jones said the three organizers, himself included, would split the funds between themselves to be donated to their charities of choice. Jones donates to and organization that provides cleft lip and palate surgeries in Guatemala as well as home construction in Guatemala. From last year’s nativity profits, Jones said the organization was able to build 25 new homes and perform 66 surgeries.

According to the Alpine Living Nativity website, the event raised over $70,000 for charity last year.

“So here’s the people coming to enjoy a Christmas Nativity, and the great benefit of them coming was that we were able to take those funds and help so many people,” Jones said. “That’s why I’m doing it again, is I certainly love the nativity, but more than that, it’s the ability to be able to go and help these other families because of that.”

To receive updates about the Alpine Living Nativity, visit the website at http://alpinelivingnativity.org.

Carley Porter covers northern Utah County and business for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at cporter@heraldextra.com.

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