By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
UPPER SANDUSKY — Getting an extra dose of Christmas cheer is as easy as taking a drive through Harrison Smith Park in Upper Sandusky.
Visitors can view more than 1 million lights and 83 displays during the 21st annual Winter Fantasy of Lights, running through Dec. 30.
“It kind of gets you in the spirit of Christmas,” said Pat Eyestone, chairman of the 14-member planning committee.
Hours are 6-9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 6-10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The cost is $5 per vehicle, and proceeds will go toward new window treatments and shelving, and the creation of a new meeting room, at the Dorcas Carey Public Library in Carey.
Eyestone explained the annual light display was the brainchild of Pat Althouse of the Upper Sandusky/Sycamore area and the late mayor Ken Richardson. The first event was held for eight days in 1997 and featured 10 displays. Proceeds totaled $5,000.
“So we have gone from 10 displays to 83, and giving $5,000 to $30,000 usually,” said Eyestone.
She and her husband, Dick, joined the committee in 2006. When Althouse retired as chairman a few years later, Eyestone took over the position.
The display, which has grown and thrived over the years, requires a lot of volunteers, said Eyestone.
“We figured up one time that total volunteers, it’s over 700,” she said. “We’ve had people from Findlay and Bellefontaine and Bucyrus call and ask how it works. Then the question usually is how do you pay everybody? And we say, ‘We don’t, they all volunteer.'”
Lights, extension cords and displays are stored throughout the year in four semi-trailer trucks. The group starts unloading on the last Saturday in October. Volunteers this year included those from the Dorcas Carey library and members of the Upper Sandusky junior high wrestling team.
“It takes everyone to help,” said Eyestone.
“A lot of people ask why we can’t be open on Thanksgiving, but this year with the weather, we used Thanksgiving weekend to get ready,” she said. “Sometimes we’ve been ready by then, but this year we definitely were not.”
Displays are assembled and lights hung throughout the park located at 525 E. Wyandot Ave. New displays, including “A Beary Merry Christmas,” “Ornamental Triptik,” “Clickity Clack on the Tracks” and “The Old Jalopy,” join old favorites like “Christmas on the Bay” and “A Smurf’s Christmas.” This year’s featured display is titled “Arose Such a Ladder,” compliments of the Upper Sandusky Fire Department.
Volunteers dressed as Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also roam around the 33-acre park to greet cars and give candy canes to children. Christmas music is delivered over an FM radio channel to enhance the festive holiday feeling.
For the fourth year, a “fantasy walk” was held prior to the Dec. 1 opening night. Eyestone said 2,005 people attended, and donations received that night were given to food pantries in Wyandot County.
For many people, visiting the show is an annual event.
“My husband and I, we do Christmas Eve and you can tell when the churches let out. Some of the people say, ‘Well, this is what we always do. We do church service and then we come here,'” Eyestone said.
The display draws visitors from all over the state, including Toledo, Columbus, Delaware and Findlay.
Eyestone said volunteers are already seeing signs of good cheer among visitors who have been paying it forward by paying for the vehicle behind them.
“You hear stories from the people that are taking the money that ‘Hey, I had 20 cars go that did the pay it forward thing until it quit,'” she said.
The group has donated just over $450,000 in the past 20 years to various Wyandot County nonprofit groups and agencies. Past recipients have included Wyandot County Home Health, Hannah’s House, Star Players, Wyandot County Skilled Nursing and Rehab, Special Olympics, Angeline School and Industries, Wyandot County Junior Fair Board, Wyandot County Council for Birth Defects and the Upper Sandusky High School Music Department.
“It’s just been a good thing to do for the community,” said Eyestone. “One, it’s become a tradition for a lot of people. And two, it’s just an easy way to give some time and give back to the various organizations around.”
Commercial vans and buses are welcome. For admission rates, contact the Wyandot County Visitor’s Bureau office at 419-294-3556 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.