Many volunteers spend many hours creating the Community Christmas Display

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Ever since Larry Tolbert retired, giving back to his community has been a priority.

That passion for Vevay and Switzerland County has led him to be involved in many different programs and events here, and the community will again benefit beginning tomorrow (Friday) night as the “Festival of Lights” kicks off the Christmas season in the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park. Santa will arrive at the park, and as he makes his way around the square, all of the holiday lights will be illuminated, and will remain on for everyone’s enjoyment through the remainder of the holiday season.

But for Tolbert and a crew of dedicated volunteers – and some outstanding help from females through a special program of the Switzerland County Sheriff’s Department, the project is almost year round.

“We’ve had a little different crew this year,” Tolbert said. “Attrition takes care of some things. We try and replace displays that aren’t working anymore. Rather than try and make it grow, we try and keep it the same size. We try and add one piece every year, something new and different; and then replace other things.”

Tolbert said that the group is leaning towards doing away with the blow up displays that have been in the park in the past, noting that it’s very hard to keep them running year to year, and when bad weather or windy weather hits, those displays suffer the most damage.

“They’re just a lot of extra work,” he said. “So as those go away, we’re not really replacing them. A lot of what we have were given to us, but it just takes a lot to keep them up and running year after year.”

Tolbert said that he feels good about the work going on to get the event ready for this year – which will be the centerpiece of the ‘First Friday’ celebration – saying that several new people have gotten involved in helping who haven’t been in the past, and that has helped with new ideas and work.

“We’ve got some people involved who are younger people, and that’s been my goal, whether talking about this or the festival or the Y or whatever – trying to get younger people involved, and it’s very difficult,” he said. “It’s a matter of priorities, I think. With me, ever since I retired, these things have been a priority, because this community made my living for years, and I feel like I need to give back to it, so I try to do that as best I can.”

This year’s new display is called ‘Leaping Arches’, and Tolbert says that it is inspired by some of the displays that people may see as a part of the holiday decorating contests you may see on TV or other places. He said that because the display has a special controller and MP3 player that helps run it, volunteers have to be very specific as to where it is going to be located in the park.

Entering the park, visitors will again see the official community Christmas Tree, which was part of a state project last year as a part of the kick off of Indiana’s Bicentennial. Other new and traditional displays are all around the park, and the ‘Santa Shelter’ on the west side as you enter Ogle Park will house Santa tomorrow night for visits with all of the children.

Tolbert is quick to give plenty of recognition to all of the other volunteers who are also giving of their time to erect the displays. He notes folks like Gary Johnson, Wayne Scott, Tom Dawson, Jim Leap, Dan Morgan, Jimmy Ray, John Kniola, Edsel Detraz, and others have been important parts of getting everything ready.

Many of the volunteers have been meeting one day a month for nearly the entire year, replacing lights of some displays and working on others that were in need of repairs.

“This stuff will drive you crazy,” Tolbert smiles. “You put it up and everything works, then you get it out and half of it doesn’t work. It’s just an ongoing process.”

As excited as the volunteers are to help with the Christmas display, they also look around and wonder where the future lies.

“I think almost all of us are in our 70s,” Tolbert said. “If you look at our average age, we’re getting up there. We’re going to go away at some point, so some of the younger people need to step up to keep this all going. Things go in cycles. Once you get a system, it should be easier for others to jump in and help.”