The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 1, 2013

Lights out!: After 39 days and 100,000 visitors, Kiwanis Holiday Lights put away ’til next year

By Tanner Kent
Free Press Features Editor

MANKATO — The lights went out at Sibley Park on Tuesday.

For 39 days in November and December, the Kiwanis Holiday Lights beckoned visitors from destinations far and wide.

With numbers for the last five days still to be tallied, organizers estimate that more than 100,000 people viewed the display. More than 30,000 vehicles motored through the park. More than 1,000 volunteers offered assistance. More than 12 tons of food were donated to area food shelves and three marriages were proposed before the display’s 1 million LED lights.

Those involved say it all adds up to one giant success.

“I think everybody is in agreement,” said Myron Erstad, vice president of the executive committee that spent two years planning and organizing the display, “it exceeded our expectations — even in our wildest imagination.”

But as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

With temperatures dipping below zero and a light snow falling on Sibley Park’s Great Lawn, volunteers and Kiwanis members began the arduous task of disassembling the display.

The lights stapled to trees, barns and animals pens were loosed and wound on large spools. The welded frames that sported images of Santa Claus and wrapped gifts were unstaked and hauled to storage. The lighted tunnel was collapsed and the dancing light displays were removed.

Those too queasy to climb ladders or too numb for manual labor were employed in untangling extension cords and gathering the countless shingle clips scattered on the ground.

Kiwanis Holiday Lights President Scott Wojcik praised the work of volunteers so far and said more will be needed to complete the job by the end of the week.

“Without all the volunteers,” he said, “this never would’ve happened.”

The same can be said for the planning and dedication of Kiwanis organizers.

Wojcik estimated that he was either at the park, or on the phone troubleshooting, for about 30 of the nights that the display was up. Secretary Kyle Mrozek said it was a “long 39 days” for a lot of Kiwanis members, but spirits were lifted by the overwhelming response.

Volunteers counted license plates from more than 15 states. Jim Sutherland, who provided carriage rides on Friday and Saturday nights, said he had passengers from England and Belgium.

Wojcik said he took pleasure in overhearing people at restaurants and stores talking about the display. Mrozek said he was once stopped at a gas station by people who recognized the logo on his hat and wanted to compliment the effort.

“We wanted it to be water-cooler talk,” said Kiwanis member Joe Meidl. “And it was.”

Organizers have even begun planning for 2013.

And though it’s a bit early to divulge too many secrets, Wojcik said visitors can expect more, bigger and better.

“We’ve already got ideas for next year,” he said.