By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
It has been said that great things often come from small beginnings … and it couldn’t be more true. Just ask the Rotary Club of South Fairmont whose members began hosting a project called “Celebration of Lights” at the City of Fairmont’s Morris Park six years ago. What began with a scant number of under 30 lighted displays has now grown to over 200 displays!
Perhaps another benefit was that the club decided to partner this event to help a charity several years ago. All funds raised from those driving through the “Celebration of Lights” are donated to the United Way of Marion County. Last year, it amounted to a sizeable contribution of $20,000!
According to Rotary Club member Mary Jo Thomas, back when it all got started, the lighted displays were rented and it was often quite expensive. So they checked into purchasing the displays, which has worked out well. Area businesses and individuals have purchased lighted displays of their choice to add to this holiday event. Some individuals have also donated displays in honor of or in memory of someone.
“The displays are of the donors’ choosing and can range in price from $125 to $2,000 – depending on the size,” Mary Jo added.
Bob Hunt, one of the co-chairs of the “Celebration of Lights”, stated, “We do allow a business that purchases a display for our event to put their name beside the display, but no phone numbers. This keeps it from becoming a commercial event. There are no advertisements and no one is trying to sell anything; however, we felt that those who support this did deserve to have their name visible.”
Morris Park’s “Celebration of Lights” officially opened for this holiday season this past weekend. It is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening from now until December 28th from 5 to 9 p.m. It will also be open (on weeknights) December 22nd, 23rd and 24th. The cost to drive through the light display is $5 per car load.
In addition, there are two special events for walkers! Walkers nights only – with no vehicles permitted – are Monday, December 1st and Thursday, December 11th.
This past weekend – opening weekend – there were over 1,400 visitors who drove through this year’s enlarged display of holiday lights. They included both in-state and out-of-state visitors who gave rave reviews!
Rotary Club member Mary Jo Thomas, who worked the gate on Sunday evening, said that people from Georgia and Missouri, home visiting family for Thanksgiving, were among those driving through this past weekend.
“Our youngest visitor thus far this year was only six weeks old,” she noted. “And many people bring their pets to see the lights. It is not uncommon to see dogs in the cars – many of them dressed up for the holiday!”
Mr. Hunt added, “It is very gratifying that the community has upheld our project the way it has! We have really had strong support and that’s not just from drive-through visitors. It takes about 400 hours over two weeks’ time to set up all the displays we have now. Our club members volunteer along with many affiliated with the United Way of Marion County and many of its agencies. This year we even had some of our local high school students who volunteered to help us for community service hours. We also thank some of the local warehouses who allow us to store the displays when not in use in underutilized space in their facilities.”
An estimated 9,600 people visited last year’s “Celebration of Lights” in Fairmont. Comparatively speaking, Mr. Hunt commented, “It looks like we could be about 25% above that number this year from our initial weekend’s turnout.”
More than 70 new displays have been added this year – many of them animated. “We have room for more,” Mr. Hunt noted. “It will just take a little more work to plan during the setup, that’s all. What is really satisfying is that instead of soliciting folks to sponsor a display, they’re now coming to us to be a part of it. So we’ll no doubt see more growth in the future!”
This evening (Dec. 4th), the Pleasant Valley School PTO will sponsor a spaghetti dinner at the school. For just $20, customers will get four spaghetti dinners plus a ticket for “Celebration of Lights” that can be used at any time throughout the season! What a great deal to take advantage of!
Mary Jo Thomas concluded, “Folks are so very generous when they drive through … many of them giving more than the $5 per car load because it is a way for them to support the United Way of Marion County and because they say the enjoyment they get out of it is well worth more than $5!”
Come see the waving Santa, penguins building a snowman, and even Granny getting run over by a reindeer! There are no long waits as there are at other larger light festivals. And organizers encourage you to bring along your cameras; all they ask is that you pull off the side of the road so that traffic behind you is not delayed.
Take exit 135 off of I-79; turn onto Pleasant Valley Road, it’s not quite a full mile to Morris Park, the home of “Celebration of Lights”.