Mike Wyant won’t rest until his annual We Care Park Christmas lights display is bigger and better than the year before. And he has plans to do just that. With a little more than a week to go before the park is lit on Thanksgiving night, he and his many volunteers are putting the finishing touches on a dazzling display.
“We started hanging lights during the last week of August, and we won’t be done until Thanksgiving Day,” said Wyant. “We’ve got about 95 percent of it ready. We’re not quite finished, but we’re close.”
The fundraiser is a big part of the We Care charitable effort. Last year, the park raised $43,500 for the organization, and chances are more than good that it will top that record number this season. Only once in the 15 years of We Care Park has it failed to register an increase in giving. Wyant is optimistic.
“I’m excited about this year; I think it’s going to be a big year.” said Wyant. “It depends on what the public wants to give. What they give, I’ll give (We Care), but we hope to raise at least one dollar more.”
Wyant said he has lost count of how many lights make up the annual display, though he is certain the count is well north of 1 million. That’s a huge increase from the 66,000 lights that were featured at the first We Care Park display in 1994. And each year brings new displays, more lights, and more special features.
For instance, Wyant bought two adjoining lots last year to expand the park, but the ground didn’t firm up enough to really utilize the added space due to the fact that some demolition had to take place a few months before the Christmas season began. This year those lots finally get to shine — literally.
A neighbor also donated the use of a garage next to Wyant’s property last year. We Care founders Dick Bronson and Charlie Cropper were memorialized in a display there in 2008. This year’s second garage display features a 1908 and a 1919 Maxwell, courtesy of Bob Gollner and the Automotive Heritage Museum.
There are plenty of other new features to enjoy throughout the park. Wyant has added more LED light displays, which shine more brightly than the traditional lights. Look for them on two gazebos — one of them is a new addition to the park — on the west side of the park as well as in various areas on the east side. He also purchased three topiaries, which are hedges shaped like a bear, a giraffe, and a deer. They, too, will be festooned with lights.
“You have to trim the topiaries three or four times a year,” said Wyant. “You can’t let them grow out of control or you’ll forget how to trim them.”
The park represents a lot of hard work and generosity, not only from Wyant but also from a number of individuals and businesses in the community. He recognized his volunteers — Ralph Wyant, Sam Kirkpatrick, Tyler Wilhite, Jim Dillon, Jack Dillon, Leroy Carroll, Ben Haden, and Jeff from Don’s Sewer Service — for their months of dedication.
“None of this would be possible without Ralph (his brother) and the guys,” said Wyant. “There are four to six guys out here every day for two months. It takes almost two weeks just to do the archways, and I spend a week in the big tree. The squirrels know me by name. But I couldn’t do this without all of the volunteers.”
It also takes commitments from local businesses to make We Care Park happen. Handy Hardware, Omeletty’s, and Eriks Chevrolet have stepped up to lead the business effort, Wyant said.
“Omeletty’s has helped us so much this year,” said Wyant. “They’ve already given us a check for $3,000, and they’re going to hold a Thanksgiving Day dinner for a freewill donation. All proceeds from that will go to We Care Park, and just yesterday (Nov. 11) they had a promotion where they gave a dollar to We Care for every meal sold. They sold 350 meals. Then there’s the 10-percent cards. They are great! Eriks Chevrolet is donating a car to give away. I don’t know what it will be yet, but I really appreciate their help. We’ll start giving the keys out on Dec. 7, and we’ll give them out until all 2,000 of them are gone.”
As always, the auction to throw the switch that lights the display will take place during the Male Call radio program on WWKI, starting at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 20.
“It’s looking like the auction will bring in a pretty penny this year,” said Wyant. “I know there are some people who are going to go after it.”
We Care Park will light up and officially open for the season at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and the park will be open from 5:30-9:30 p.m. every night until Dec. 27. The turn-out for the lighting typically attracts a few thousand people, so it may be wise to arrive early. “It’s just a tradition for a lot of people,” said Wyant. “After Thanksgiving dinner, they load in the car and come up here to see the switch pulled.”
And even though the operating hours end at 9:30 p.m., Wyant said he won’t turn the lights out if there is still traffic going through the park at quitting time.
“If people come, I’ll stay out here until midnight,” said Wyant.