The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 27, 2012

A thousand hours for a million lights: Kiwanis seeking volunteers to help erect extensive holiday display

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Dayna Reinke slowly rolled a large wooden cable drum full of Christmas lights down the path while Russ Behn crouched on his knees, stapling the lights to a fence at the farmyard at Sibley Park.

The volunteers were part of a crew helping install 1 million lights and other decorations for the inaugural Kiwanis Holiday Lights display.

“Our mission is the perimeter of the barn fencing,” said Behn, who works for Minnesota Valley Action Council. “This is exciting, it should really be impressive.”

Reinke, who’s taking classes at MSU and will be heading into the Marine Corps later this year, can’t wait to see the results before she leaves. “It’s a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it. I can’t wait to see it all lit up.”

Today, and for the three weekends to follow, the Kiwanis are seeking volunteers to help erect the display that will encircle much of the park near the farmyard. 

“We’ll see how it goes. This is the first time we’ve done it, but it’s going good,” said Joe Meidl, who was overseeing operations for the Kiwanis Saturday.

The group has relied heavily on advice from the Rotary club in La Crosse that has put on a similar display for many years.

“We’re guessing we will need about 1,000 volunteer hours to put them up,” Meidl said. Besides people just showing up to help, nonprofit groups have been lining up volunteers. “We probably have 50 groups who are sending volunteers. MSU sports teams are coming down. They’ve all been great.”

Besides stringing lights on fences, buildings and in trees, the group will in coming weekends install a variety of displays, including 700 candy canes made of PVC pipe and a variety of steel displays outfitted with lights.

There will be a choreographed light display on a 40-foot-long tunnel, large enough to allow tour buses to drive through it. “Crysteel is making that for us, it should be impressive,” Meidl said.

There will also be 50 Christmas trees erected along the road, with a variety of nonprofit groups coming in to decorate them.

The design of the display was created largely by Scott Wojcik and Eric Olsen. Olsen, an architect, provided valuable skills, Meidl said.

With plenty of work ahead to install the display, Meidl isn’t ready to think too much about the inevitable. “After we get all these up, it will be, ‘Oh, we’re going to have to take them all down, too.’”

La Crosse organizers, he said, take down their display in two days — a goal the Kiwanis shoot for.

The inaugural Kiwanis Holiday Lights presented by Mankato Area Foundation and CHS will run from Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, to Dec. 31.

The Mankato Area Foundation donated $50,000, while CHS donated an undisclosed amount. About $100,000 has been raised so far.

Volunteers are needed each weekend through Nov. 18 to help put up the display. For more information call 385-9129 or email or The work is being done from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekend day.