Lighting Up ChristmasDecember 21, 2013
Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Rachel Mummey
Spotlights, colored lights and twinkling clear bulbs light up the nights during the Christmas season.
Illuminated Santas, mangers, snowmen, trees and other winter scenes pepper lawns all across the landscape, delighting child and adult passers-by.
Those who create the designs take plenty of time and care in perfecting their displays.
“You can tell just by looking how much time people put into their displays,” Jasper Jaycees member Scott Meneilly says.
The Jaycees and Jasper Chamber of Commerce sponsor a Christmas outdoor home decorating and lighting contest each year.
Those who participate in the contest enter their displays in one of four categories: best use of lights, best family theme, most original and most traditional. Many entrants have participated in years past and plan accordingly.
“We started working on ours at the beginning of November,” Garry Wieneke says of his family’s lights display.
That display, on West First Street, is pretty popular and unique in the area because the lights are synchronized to music. This is the family’s fifth year for putting up a display.
“The system architecture and lights takes a lot of planning,” says Garry, an electrical engineer. He and his wife, Katrina, plan out the design early on using markers and a dry-erase board. Once they’ve determined the light and music patterns, they enlist the help of Katrina’s dad to install the lights on their house.
The display, which started with just two songs in the beginning, is up to seven songs.
Also this year, the couple upgraded their electrical system just for the presentation. “The ground fault would trip every year,” Garry says. “I put in special circuits for the show to operate. Now the show has six dedicated breakers, to improve the reliability.”
The improvements — or maybe it was just the display itself — earned the Wienekes another first-place award in the most original category. “That display was definitely the winner, hands down,” says Scott, who has helped judge the contest for at least 25 years. “You can tell they put a lot of work into that. It’s spectacular.”
On Dec. 13, Scott and his children, Anastasia and Andy, judge the most original category.
As a light snow begins to fall, the Meneillys leave the Jaycee Clubhouse just after 6 p.m. to judge the four entrants in that category. Three other carloads of volunteers take responsibility for judging the other categories. A total of 22 homes are in the contest.
“There’s not really a blueprint for judging the contest,” Scott says. “It’s really just the opinions of the judges in the car. We discuss what we like about the display and the things we notice and then come to an agreement for the first-, second- and third-place winners.”
That’s exactly how Brian Hostetter and his daughter, 12-year-old Madison, handle their judging duties for the family theme category. They have been working together as a judging team for the last six years. They are usually a trio, but this year 10-year-old Logan, Brian’s son and Madison’s brother, decided not to judge.
Madison gives more input than her dad, since he is concentrating on driving them to the five homes in the contest.
“Oh, that one is pretty,” Madison comments upon reaching the first display, on St. Charles Street.
“So you like that one?” Brian asks, handing her a pen so that she can note on their contest sheet the designs that stand out.
“Well, maybe it’s a little overdone,” Madison thinks out loud, noting the overabundance of lights and blow-up characters — a Colts football player, a reindeer, an angel and more — in a confined space.
“OK, I’ll put ”˜overdone,’ but I like it.”
Madison says that she enjoys judging and knows “what’s in and what’s out” stylewise.
“Overcrowding is out,” she says. “Simple would be good. But too many things crammed in is too much.”
What she considers cramming is a bit subjective. “I’m very picky,” she acknowledges.
When they come upon the entry on Daisy Lane, Madison notices the many scenes and lights that cover the yard.
“Whoa,” she says, a little overwhelmed. “It’s got people skating, a carousel, a snowman waving.” She continues looking. “And Santa coming down the chimney. And music!”
After reviewing for a while, Madison makes her determination. “This one I love,” she says, “I still think it’s a little overdone, but I like it a lot.”
Brian agrees that he likes the look as well. After viewing the rest of the entries, they determine that the one on Daisy Lane deserves first place. They go back to the home to deliver the medal, yard sign and good news.
Bob Brush answers the door. Brian tells him that the display won an award.
“Hey! Great!” Bob says excitedly. “Thank you!”
Brian gushes a little about the display to a smiling Bob. “Well, I’m glad that you enjoyed it,” Bob says. “We hope everyone likes it.”
Brian he has been a contest judge for almost all of the 12 years that he has been a Jaycees member. Although he decorates his home, he has never entered the contest.
“All the Jaycees know me,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to have an appearance of impropriety.”
After completing their judging mission and delivering the awards, Brian and Madison meet with the other judges at Yaggi’s Restaurant for celebratory pizza and discussions about what each saw.
Margo Porter talks about a video that is shown in the window of one Leslie Drive home that was not in the contest. She describes Santa Claus moving about inside, leaving gifts.
“And then Santa Claus disappeared,” Margo tells the group. “It was like ”˜Wow!’ It was great.”
Margo, her husband, Wayne, and friend Gayle Pahmeier were in the area to judge a display in the best use of lights category. Lighted pieces included a snowman, sleigh and angels as well as light balls in the trees and lights lining the house, in other trees and in the yard.
“The roof was lined with lights and they brought the lights out into the yard, too,” Gayle adds. “It was nice.” The design won first place.
All four entries in the category were beautiful, Wayne says.
Another spectacle that caught some judges’ attention is at John and Kris Kluemper’s home on West 13th Street. A “man” is hanging by his fingertips near a string of Christmas lights on the front of the house with his tilted ladder nearby but out of reach.
The man is actually a dummy. And it was all John’s idea, Kris is quick to say.
“I generally don’t put up decorations,” John says. “But I went all out this year. It was easy and I thought people would get a kick out of it.”
John said that he saw the idea on the Internet years ago and decided to copy it this year. “I got a set of coveralls and a windbreaker, attached a pair of gloves to it and filled the inside with foam rubber,” he says. “It was easy.”
The response to the display was immediate. “The neighbor down the street saw it two days after I put it up and got out of the car and ran up to help,” John says with a laugh. “When she saw it was fake she emailed my daughter and asked what kind of joke is her dad doing.”
Another woman knocked on the Kluempers’ door to ask if the hanging dummy was real.
The contest judges gave the display third place. That makes both John and Kris proud. It also makes them chuckle because they didn’t enter the contest in the first place. “My sisters did that,” John says.
“They emailed me after and told me what they’d done, which is fine. We didn’t think of doing that.”
The dozen signs noting the winners in the Christmas lights contest now sit in yards across Jasper. But dozens more displays are lit nightly for drivers to view and marvel at with wonder.
The best decorations
Winners — in order of first, second and third place — are:
Best Family Theme
Brush Family, 333 Daisy Lane
May and Bud Kleeman, 2329 Stacy Lane
Mary and Howard Martin, 405 W. 7th St.
Kurt and Jenny Lechner, 3122 Howard Drive
Kerry Jochim, 1683 White Oak Drive
Steve Volz, 365 Ridge Wood Lane
Garry and Katrina Wieneke, 1643 W. 1st St.
Ron and Barb Rasche, 2555 Birk Drive
John and Kris Klemper, 1181 W. 13th St.
Best Use of Lights
Kevin and Amy Kippenbrock, 2905 Leslie Dr.
Alice and Norm Kern, 4147 Baden Strasse
Andy Lechner and Megan Bonifer, 3999 W. 400N
Contact Candy Neal
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