By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
For the 18th year, a portion of Gano Street will become emblazoned with millions of Christmas lights as We Care Park opens to the delight of young and old alike.
Started in 1994 by Mike Wyant, the display continues to grow every year, as it runs from Thanksgiving through the Christmas holiday and ending Dec. 27. The display has raised $590,057 to bring Christmas cheer to thousands of Kokomo children and their families.
“We’re 98 percent ready,” Wyant said Wednesday. “There are a lot of LED lights and new small displays.”
The fire-breathing dragon returns, and will join the whale at the fish pond and three jumping deer. New this year will be a display based on the fairy tale “Hickory, Dickory Dock,” which includes a mouse running up the clock and scampering down at the stroke of 1 o’clock.
“We’ve added a lot more,” he said.
Also on display this year will be a 1918 Haynes owned by Bob and Rose Gollner. The car will be surrounded by antiques, including a 100-year-old rocking horse.
The plan is to string Christmas lights across Gano Road leading up to We Care Park.
Starting Dec. 3, visitors to the park will have a chance to win a car donated by Eriks Chevrolet. The first 2,000 cars coming through the park will receive a key, which can be taken to the dealership to see if it starts the car.
At 9:30 a.m. Friday, Wyant will be on WWKI’s Male Call to auction off the opportunity to ceremoniously turn on the lights to mark the park’s opening for the year. The lights will be turned on at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving.
Last year, Omeletty’s Restaurant bid $13,000 and two other companies donated $3,000.
The annual display last year raised a record $73,100 through donations and sponsorships for We Care.
In 1994, the park donated $4,000 to We Care. Except for 2005, the amount donated increases every year.
“I couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” Wyant said of setting up the displays.
This week, his brother Ralph helped put the finishing touches on the park.
Work starts the first week of August in preparation for the holiday season, Ralph Wyant said.
“We’ve been working on it for 3½ months,” he said. “It will take a couple of months to take down. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun.”
Wyant said people would be disappointed if the annual light display didn’t take place.
For 10 years, Leroy Carroll has been helping set up the displays.
The retired Chrysler worker said the volunteers are at the park almost every day.
“[Mike Wyant] keeps adding new attractions every year,” Carroll said. “The hardest part is putting up the arches along the alley.
“We have a lot of fun,” he said. “The best part is watching the kids enjoy the lights.”