Lighting up Mustang Drive

Ceremony kicks off Light up the Night

Photo by Jenny Kirk Leighton Porter, left, and Grandma Becky Knakmuhs look on as Everett Porter gets a little hug from Melissa Doom during the lighting ceremony on Thursday at SMSU.

MARSHALL — As the sun went down on Thursday, a brilliant color display lit up along Mustang Drive on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.

The kickoff for the first-ever Light up the Night event was held in conjunction with the Prairie Home Hospice & Community Care’s annual “A Light to Remember Someone Special” lighting ceremony.

“I loved it,” Melissa Doom said. “I’ve been coming to it for a few years.”

About 90 people were in attendance for the lighting ceremony.

“This is something we’ve done every year for many years,” Prairie Home Hospice CEO Pat Mellenthin said. “People buy lights in remembrance of somebody who is not here at Christmastime. And we just read through the names of all of the people and encourage people to remember them in their hearts but remind them that our loved ones would not want us to be sad during the holidays. They’d want us to still be joyous and celebrate the season. So it’s just kind of a nice way to start the season.”

After a musical selection from the Southwest Men’s Chorus, candles were lit, names were read and the tree was lit. Specially selected, the tree is one of the most stunning among a long trail of beautiful trees lit up for the new holiday event.

“We wanted to do a fundraiser, but we also wanted to do something that would benefit the community because the community has supported Prairie Home Hospice for so many years,” Mellenthin said. “We thought that this would draw lots of people into our community over the holidays, which would be good. This it he first time of what we hope will be an annual event.”

As a partner in the “Light up the Night” events, Holy Redeemer will receive 25 percent of the proceeds raised. The rest of the funds will go to support Prairie Home’s hospice mission.

“About 20 percent of our budget comes from fundraising and donations — support from the community,” Mellenthin said. “That extra support from the community allows us to continue to uphold the 33-year tradition of providing hospice care to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay for it.”

Mellenthin said Prairie Home Hospice has always had a commitment to making sure people who need hospice care get it. And unlike for-profit businesses, they’re also able to have their nurses spend extended time with patients and their families.

“When I go to conferences, other directors will inevitably ask, ‘Well, what is your time limit for nursing visits?’ and I’ll say we don’t have one,” Mellenthin said. “We tell our nurses, “Spend time with the patients. Spend time with the family.’ And we can do that because of the support we get from the community.”

Minus freshly-fallen snow, the night was ideal for people to walk, ride or drive through the winter wonderland of lights.

“I thought it was really cool,” Tawnni Slagel said. “I think it’s a good idea. And they have a lot of lights out there.”

Teresa Slagel, walking alongside her daughter, also had an enjoyable experience.

“It’s a great community event to draw people out,” Teresa Slagel said. “It’s something nice to do as a family.”

Mellenthin said more than 200 volunteers pitched in to do all the decorating over the past few weeks.

“I think, as rewarding as anything is, the number of people who have come together in the community to support it is just amazing,” she said. “Along with the 200 volunteers, we also have another hundred who signed up to help over the next month.”

Light up the Night 2017 will be on display every Thursday through Sunday in December, from 5-9:30 p.m.

“We have horse-drawn carriage rides and hayrides — no real sleigh because we don’t have snow,” volunteer Pam Hess said.

Along with holiday carolers and musical entertainment, there’s also an opportunity to gather around a magnificent holiday campfire, courtesy of Bend-rite and Marshall Fire Department.

“It’s beautiful,” Mellenthin said. “I’m not sure what it’ll look like, though, after it gets covered in marshmallows.”

Along with the campfire, a concession stand is also located at the entrance of the Regional Event Center. People can purchase two sugar cookies for $1, a s’mores kit for $2.50 and many other holiday items. There are also novelty items, such as blinking ornament necklaces and stocking hats, for sale.

There’s also a special area designated for Santa when he makes a visit.

“We’ve actually had calls from communities 40 and 50 miles away that are coming,” Mellenthin said. “They’re actually bringing busloads over the next few weeks. So it’s going to be really fun to share this.”

Lights will be on for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but there will be no events taking place. A grand finale will take place from on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) at the Regional Event Center, beginning at 9 p.m.

“It will end with fireworks at midnight, so we’re excited about that,” Mellenthin said.