NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- If Carl and Wynona Elder collected one glass ornament for each Christmas they've shared, the couple could decorate a tree.This is their 60th yule season together.The first as husband and wife still stands above the rest, like a glittery treetop star.That December was the coldest -- and warmest -- Christmas of them all.The temperature outside was 35 degrees below zero, but inside the hand-hewn log building, an intimate scene gladdened the Elders' hearts.Ninety-five people -- record attendance -- filled rows of hard wooden benches that served as pews. Brother Carl cheerfully welcomed the faithful assembly of neighbors and friends, mostly U.S. military families. Wynona, expecting the couple's first child, sat at an upright piano.The group sang, in full voice, of a silent night ... love's pure light ... joy to the world.The children, dressed as biblical characters, performed a Christmas play.A spirit of adventure and belief in divine guidance had brought the Elders to this outpost far, far from home.That raw winter in 1953, the Texas couple lived in an 18-foot travel trailer with an outdoor toilet.Even with an oil-burning stove, the nights grew so cold that when the Elders woke up, they discovered that one edge of their electric blanket had stuck -- frozen -- to a trailer wall.Why complain? They felt they had all they needed.That Christmas, at his wife's urging, Carl trudged into the snowy woods and returned holding a small evergreen. Wynona decorated the 2-foot tree and placed it on a shelf.They shared their happiness with a cocker spaniel puppy nicknamed Nicky, short for St. Nick.A spirit-lifting sense of purpose and accomplishment outweighed whatever hardships they endured.Carl, now 82, can still see himself, dark-haired, energetic, standing in the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in tiny North Pole, Alaska.Christmas townIf Santa Claus resides at the geographic North Pole, the northernmost point on Earth, North Pole, Alaska, may be his summer vacation home, situated 1,700 miles south.The Fairbanks suburb has grown (population 2,226) and become a Christmas-theme community since the Elders lived for almost a year in the newly incorporated town back when Alaska was still a U.S. territory.North Pole streets are named Snowman Lane, Mistletoe, Donner, Blitzen. Streetlights and fire hydrants are striped like candy canes. The town's slogan: "Where the Spirit of Christmas Lives Year Round."Before Christmas, the post office receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa and more from people wanting the town's postmark on their Christmas greeting cards.The biggest tourist attraction is Santa Claus House. The gift shop on St. Nicholas Drive is the modern-day incarnation of a small trading post.In winter 1953, Carl Elder walked from the couple's trailer to that store, carrying an empty can.He filled it with water and headed home on foot."I had to keep shaking that can," Elder recalled, smiling, "to keep the water from freezing."5,225 milesCarl Elder felt called to preach when he was a teenager.After attending Decatur Baptist College, he enrolled at Howard Payne College in Brownwood, where he met and courted 18-year-old Wynona Lue Tipton, a preacher's daughter.A week after they married, the couple packed all their belongings, most of them wedding gifts, into a 1941 Plymouth -- with a rebuilt engine and no radio -- that Carl had bought for $200.Their life together was an open road. They were going to Alaska."I was so excited," Wynona said, picking up the story."My mother probably cried when I left, but she never let me see her cry."Carl's half brother, who lived in Fairbanks, wired the couple $300 for the trip north. Carl knew the territory. He had worked several summers in Alaska and had a construction job waiting for him.Leaving Dallas, the newlyweds drove to Childress. In New Mexico, the Plymouth overheated. After flushing the radiator, they pressed ahead, into Colorado and up to Sweet Grass, Mont., at the U.S.-Canada border.Their 12-year-old sedan leaked brake fluid.Wynona didn't have a driver's license, but she periodically took the wheel long enough for her husband to nap. They encountered the worst stretch between Edmonton, Alberta, and Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where the spring thaw had turned the gravel road into something akin to chocolate mousse. They crept along, covering the 350 miles in 19 hours.Finally, the couple reached Fairbanks. The 10-day trip, which cost $228.17, covered 5,225 miles.Building a churchAfter working construction a few months, Elder left his job to restart a mission at North Pole.The couple found the vacant log building in poor condition. That summer, Carl enlisted several families to help make the structure habitable.They bailed 18 inches of ice and standing water out of the basement. Using jacks and timbers, they straightened the walls and caulked the logs, preparing for winter.On Sept. 6, 1953, the mission became the First Baptist Church of North Pole.Carl earned $400 a month as founding pastor of the 46-member congregation.Elder went on to devote his life to Christian ministry, serving as pastor or interim pastor at more than 20 churches before retiring.Dallas Baptist University honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award.Recently, as another Christmas draws near, Wynona produced one of several scrapbooks they keep at their apartment. Great-grandparents now, the couple turned the pages, filled with black-and-white snapshots, some picturing the little North Pole church and many of its members.They talked about the gratifying experience of starting a church and of the dear friends they made.They relived that exhausting, bonding journey north in an old dark-blue car caked with mud.Wynona Elder looked up from the album, smiling."I had such confidence in him," she said proudly.As her blue eyes brimmed, Carl's bride gazed lovingly at the man still at her side, her driver, her partner, her protector, her best friend."I just knew we'd make it."