Joy of the holiday season helped by the work of community volunteers

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Again this year, everyone will be able to drive through the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay and enjoy the ‘Festival of Lights’ that will fill the park. The event is open to the public all through the Christmas holiday season; but for a group of community volunteers, it’s a labor of love that has been going on full time since September – and is quickly becoming a year-round responsibility.

“We’ve got a lot of good help down there,” crew leader Larry Tolbert said. “Mike Danner’s been involved. Tom Dawson’s been involved. Jimmy Leap and John Kniola and others have been a big help. It’s coming along.”

Also providing help in the park are women from the Madison Correctional Facility; and Tolbert says that the ladies have worked really hard and have been a great help in getting everything ready.

Work has continued all through this week’s colder weather, and is expected to continue right up until the official opening during tomorrow’s (Friday’s) ‘First Friday’ event.

“Pieces have been added,” Tolbert said. “We came up with the idea for people in the community to ‘adopt a piece’ or ‘adopt a display’. That was the best case scenario. People have taken them, fixed them, and brought them back; but I’m hoping that they also come and get them and take them home and store them until next year, really take some ownership of caring for the piece. I don’t know if that will happen, so we’ll probably end up storing them ourselves, but we’ve had people come and help get pieces ready for display.”

Tolbert said new this year has been the addition of special clips that connect the strands of lights to the shaped structures. He said that in the past volunteers have had to use zip ties and duct tape and other means to attach the lights to the frames, but this year the clips make life much easier for those trying to change out burned out light strands for working ones.

“We had one display that all of the lights were held on by tape, and it took the girls over two hours just to get the old lights off,” Tolbert said. “It was a mess. These clips should help us do this year to year much easier.”

The lights, obviously, are the big attraction for the festival, but are also the volunteers’ biggest nemesis. Tolbert said that at the end of last year all of the lights were tested to make sure that they worked before they were stored for the summer; but when they were brought out to hook up, suddenly they no longer worked, forcing the change out of strands – all of it time consuming work.

“That’s the trouble with Christmas lights,” he said. “You put them away and they’re working; and you get them out and they’re not. I’ve even had cases where I know Edsel (Detraz) and I last year started out in August and we would meet once a week for a half a day, and that’s all we did was test pieces and try and get lights working. We had stuff that we had tagged as working, and then we got it down to the park and it didn’t work. It’s been a struggle.”

What visitors will find when they enter the park beginning this week will be nearly 75 different displays, with many containing more than one element to create an individual display. The displays range from older displays that have been donated by local families to new, more high-tech displays that appear to move; to modern inflatables.

At the symbolic center of the festival of lights will be a Norwegian Fir Tree that has been planted near the park entrance. Tolbert said that in conjunction with Indiana’s Bicentennial in 2016, state officials have asked each county in the state to plant a tree.

“We decided that we would plant the fir tree because it can act as our community Christmas tree each year moving forward; and it also counts as Switzerland County’s official tree for the Bicentennial,” Tolbert said.

Along with the displays, there will be lights strung along the fences, on each shelter house; and in the ball field everyone will see a large display with a big star towering over the entire event. At the entrance to the park will be two large candy canes that will hold up ‘Merry Christmas’. Tolbert said that visitors will see some new pieces in the overall display; and says that more pieces will be added throughout the month, so visitors driving through multiple times during the season will find something new each time.

The display will stay up and stay on until January 2nd.

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For more information on tomorrow’s ‘First Friday’ activities, see page A-4 of today’s edition.