UNION CITY, Ind. — Opening night of the 14th Annual “A Community Christmas” is Friday, Nov. 29.
Larry Amspaugh, a l972 graduate of Ansonia High school, and president of the A Community Christmas committee, said there will be five million lights up in the park this year.
Amspaugh, who got the ball rolling on this annual project 14 years ago, starts working on decorations the second week of September.
“We buy the lights and replace some and add more each year,” he said.
Volunteers from all walks of life help each year with the project.
“Different organizations man the donation booth, and they keep track of all of those who go through there each year. “We try to keep the money in town and with that, donate to support groups.”
What’s new this year?
“We will have eight decorative ice skaters coming in by Monday morning,” he said at Saturday’s interview. “And that display will be at the horse arena.”
Also new, he said, is a storage barn that he and other volunteers built. It’s 35 x 72 feet and 15 feet high to house their Christmas equipment and decorations. It sits on the west end of the park.
“Before we built that, we stored our things in a building on Pearl Street,” Amspaugh said. “Back then, I would have to start decorating in August.”
An enclosed shelter house on the park grounds will be the scene of a gift shop during the holidays.
Another highlight of the event is when the Randoph County Airport hosts the Lights in Flight the second weekend in December.
“We had 565 cars in on Friday night and 700 cars on Saturday,” he reported. “They take people up for rides at $20 a person. They donate their money to PAWS.”
Last year 5,774 people went through the park, according to him.
In the process of all this, Amspaugh, owner and general contractor for Hometown Handyman, is also building a house in Lynn, Ind., for a customer.
Working on the committee with Amspaugh at Harter Park, are Chad Spence, vice president/secretary; and his wife, Anita Amspaugh, treasurer , along with 15-20 others.
“This is a seven-month process for all of the volunteers,” said Amspaugh, who began overseeing this project in 2005. “It’s getting close to being done.”
This non-profit group sells Christmas cards to businesses for advertisement and for families and are on display throughout the park. They sell for $75 each.
“They last up to 10 years,” he said. “We just did 90 this year.”
Why does he do this? “
It takes a lot of man hours….thousands,” he said. “It is an enjoyment for me. I work the gate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and see a van with kids’ heads sticking out with eyes the size of silver dollars and then getting thank-yous, saying this is fantastic. That goes for all the board members and volunteers. This is for the community, not Larry Amspaugh. We get people in town we normally do not get from Union City.”
He said the Randolph County Tourism Board sponsored a billboard of the event on Interstate 70 west of State Route 40, Richmond, Ind.
“We had over 100,000 hits on Facebook and it was shared by at least 20,000. That all happened in the first four days, Thursday through Monday. This has grown every year because it’s the people’s tradition.”
According to Amspaugh, there have been people come here as far away as Hawaii.
“A lot of them are out of state,” he said. “People come here for the holidays now and drive out through here.”
The drive-thru light display, throughout Harter Park’s 60-plus acres, will be open Dec. 8, and nightly from Dec. 12 through New Year’s Eve. Hours are 6-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Vehicles may enter from either drive off of Jackson Pike, on the east end of the park only. There is no admission fee; however donations are accepted at the exit gate
The decorations will go down sometime after New Year’s Eve, the last night of the show, depending on the weather.
Contact Staff Writer Linda Moody at email@example.com or at (937)569-4315 ext. 1749. Read more news, features and sports at DarkeCountyMedia.com.