Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Holiday display a feast for the eyes

Middletown light festival opens Friday

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — Just months after the national spotlight was turned on Smith Park's new Baker Bowl Skate Park, the city park is again going to shine.

        At 6 p.m. Friday, when the Thanksgiving meal is reduced to leftovers, the park will serve another feast — this one for the eyes, with the kickoff of the first Light up Middletown. The free drive-through holiday light display, featuring thousands of colorful, animated displays, will be open 6-10 nightly, rain or shine, through Dec. 31.

        “We hope people come from all over the region to see this,” said Florella Ran dall, committee chairwoman. “I want this to be the beginning of a long tradition in the city that grows every year.”

        An arch 20 feet tall, 45 feet long and 36 feet wide, draped in brilliant lights will welcome park visitors. The pond will be circled by 550 luminaria.

        It leads to bigger-than-life displays, including Santa and his reindeer, Holiday Express Train, a gingerbread house, a 12-foot waving snowman and other items.

        “I'm impressed that something like this is happening in Middletown,” said Shirley Chapman, who walks in the park daily. “It's going to be beautiful.”

        Until a few weeks ago, the light festival was pretty much a one-woman show. Ms. Randall conceived the plan and spent more than a year making it happen.

        “For years she's supported everybody else's proj ects,” said Ann Mort, communications specialist for the lights advisory committee. “Without her this would never have happened. She's been like a little bulldog with it.”

        Last January, Ms. Randall, a retired secretary for Middletown High School's athletic department, launched a fund drive — mailing letters to 280 friends and acquaintances asking for donations, and visiting foundations and businesses. She single-handedly raised nearly $60,000, including $15,000 from the city, $9,400 from the Middletown Community Foundation, plus donations of labor and materials from the city and businesses.

        “I was shocked by the response. I only had a couple of people turn me down,” she said.

        She's quick to credit others who helped with the lights event — including Ginger Smith, city public works senior administrative assistant, her liaison with the city — city maintenance crews and the committee. Volunteers, including Barney Strassburger, Rod Adkins, Paul Brewer and Bill Dietz, worked tirelessly for two weeks getting the displays up, she said.

        “It's been more work than we expected, but it's for a good cause. It makes me feel good to see something like this happening,” Mr. Strassburger said.

        Smith Park has won acclaim in national publications and drawn visitors from all over the region since the skate park opened in June.

        Ms. Randall hopes the light festival will add to the park's popularity.

        “It's been a full-time job for me since January, but it will be worth every minute to see it being enjoyed by families,” she said.


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