Lighting up the night
Creating excitement for the holiday season, and raising awareness and funds for a much-needed community service, Prairie Home Hospice is once again offering Light Up the Night every weekend in December
The temperature was only 15 degrees last Friday, but people were still cheery as they celebrated the magic of the holidays at the Prairie Home Hospice and Community Care’s Light Up the Night in Marshall.
The location of the second annual event was moved — from the Southwest Minnesota State University campus last year to Independence Park this year — and has been able to grow because of it.
“Last year, we had about 80,000 lights, but we’re well over 200,000 this year,” organizer Tara Plante said. “And we maybe have lights on a third of the trees in the park. In the dark, it doesn’t look like there’s many trees that aren’t lit up, but during the daytime, you can tell there are hundreds left if you count out by the baseball field and out by Highway 23. There are still several hundred left. It’s unbelievable.”
The trees sparkle with different color schemes and several walking paths provide an up-close view of many of them. Light Up the Night also provides the opportunity for people to take horse carriage rides, trolley rides and hay rides which weave through the park. Chad Boeck and children Kaden, Sophia and Liam were especially excited to have a horse carriage ride.
While his wife was helping out with other rides, Rick Kobylinski took his five children on a trolley ride, but not before daughter Cora and twins Elise and Myra had the chance to play on an enormous snow pile while he held twins Mason and Liam.
Plante, marketing and developing director at Prairie Home Hospice, said the hope is that every tree will be lit in the park within five-10 years. But in order to do that, they need the community’s financial help.
“We need people to keep bringing their freewill donations or we can’t afford to keep doing it,” she said. “These are such big, beautiful trees that are alive and mature, so it takes about 20 rolls to do one pine tree. It’s $400 for one tree. So we need to keep getting donations, so we can make it bigger and bigger every year.”
Plante said Light Up the Night isn’t likely to make a profit for at least two or three years, but eventually it needs to be a fundraiser for Prairie Home Hospice.
“We needed to do another fundraiser because we built a new house and we were growing so much and expanding our employee base and our patient base,” she said. “So because we’re the only free-standing nonprofit, 20 percent of our revenue has to come from fundraising. So we wanted to do another big event, but at the same time, we really wanted to do something that gave back to the community because they give us so much and are the only reason we are still here.”
Plante said the hospice care organization couldn’t do what it does without the community.
“They support our charity event, Tough Enough to Wear Pink, and the fall raffle,” Plante said. “We do many events and we ask a lot of the community, so we wanted to do an event that gives back to Marshall. So people can come shop, eat and take in the light show. The downtown parade will hopefully help the downtown businesses and just bring people to town. Or maybe people will take in sporting events and go to SMSU or the Red Baron Arena.”
Several humorous winter and Christmas memories were shared at the event by area storytellers. Those taking the microphone included Sue Morton, Julie Walker, Brianna Holmquist, Cassie Williams, Paisley Godfrey and Crystal Yearous.
The cozy fire pit was quite popular due to the cold, though not breezy, conditions. Kirk and Angela Grannes and their children Ava and Charlie took advantage of the heat, as did Corey Warner, Anya Smith and their children Alexandra and Liam Warner.
A live nativity scene was also popular, as were the refreshments, which were complimentary due to a $2,000 donation from Jim Lozinski and family.
“After the parade downtown (Nov. 30), I was in the concessions and we gave out well over 600 cups of hot chocolate,” said Meagan Tolk, a massage therapist and certified nursing assistant who works for Prairie Home Hospice. “The cookies and hot chocolate are free because Jim Lozinski donated money for us to do that.”
Volunteer Erica Hess handed out cookies and hot chocolate Friday.
“It was fun to see the people all together,” Hess said.
Tolk noted that the one downfall of moving the location from SMSU to Independence Park was that it wasn’t really a drive-through process anymore.
“It makes it tougher for older people and those babies and don’t want to get out of the car,” she said. “But we haven’t heard much negative. I think people like how open it is. It also looks like there’s a lot more lights. It’s spread out and there’s paths that are meant to be walked on.”
Tolk figures she personally put in about 30 hours decorating trees. Including the city employees and other volunteers from various organizations, Plante estimates that between 400 and 500 people helped with the tree decorating process.
“We didn’t start decorating until November and I think we did 50 percent of it the last week,” Plante said. “The weather wasn’t great for a lot of our decorating days. We decorated every Sunday and Wednesday. They were cold. But that last week was amazing. Thank goodness, otherwise we never would have gotten it done.”
Since the majority of the trees are all high, lifts were required in order to decorate to the top.
“Thank goodness for the firemen,” Tolk said.
Tolk and Plante said they were especially grateful for the help from employees from the city as well as those from Marshall Municipal Utilities.
“They helped us install power, which is a huge reason why we moved the event here from SMSU,” Plante said. “There was very little power back there. We had to take out like 15 generators every night and then put them back. This way is a lot easier.”
Plante said the city has also partnered in taking down and storing the lights.
“We have to be careful,” she said. “We have to store them correctly and take them down gently. But the city has been wonderful helping us do that. This year, we had maybe a dozen strings from last year that didn’t work. We had to fix a couple bulbs and fuses, but the LED ones they make these days now are pretty good.”
Santa look-a-like Mike Boedigheimer said he thinks the lights will come down a lot faster than they went up, adding that he hopes the dazzling light display continues to keep drawing people to Marshall.
“A lot of people came from out of town last year,” he said.
Plante said it takes her about two months to put all of the lights away.
“I try to put them away organized in totes by which color they are,” she said. “Then when we take them out, we test them all before they go out. We have a plan, but it doesn’t always go the way we had planned. It’s a lot of lights. It’s a huge investment for us. It’s only $8 a roll, but when you buy 400 rolls every time you go to the store, the cost of lights really adds up fast.”
Four mailboxes are placed throughout the park with the hopes that people will consider donating to the community event.
“People can drop money in and we collect it every night,” Plante said. “There are envelopes at the welcome hut and people can take them with them and drop in the mail later, too.”
Donations collected beforehand help pay for lights and other costs, such as printing the promotional booklet, gas and extension cords.
“We have 6 miles of extension cords, so that was another huge cost,” Plante said. “The booklets help promote the town and the promotional spaces help with expenses.”
Plante is quick to acknowledge that her team of volunteers — Hess, Tolk, Cassi Weiss, Karen VanKeulen, Andrea Porter — are lifesavers.
“I couldn’t do this without my team,” Plante said. “They are fantastic. Karen organized the lighted parade and our staff and other volunteers fill all the shifts out here every night. It’s a lot to ask of people, so we’re always in need of volunteers and money.”
Prairie Home Hospice and Community Care is proud to be offering the magic experience of Light Up the Night, but the organization, which was founded in 1984, also plans to continue providing quality care for its patients at Lockwood House, McLaughlin House and throughout the area.
“Quality costs lots of money,” Plante said. “We always have five patients at one house and four at the other, with two full-time nurses working at each house. You can’t find that ratio anywhere else in the state. Most of the time it’s 1:15 or 1:20. We have almost 60 employees now including part-time and casual employees.”
Plante said organizers really want to keep Light Up the Night going well into the future.
“It’s a good thing for the town,” she said. “So we hope it grows every year.”
Light Up the Night activities will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through December.