By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
With unseasonably warm temperatures, hundreds gathered on Thanksgiving for the official lighting of We Care Park.
The crowd’s oohs and aahs filled the air when the estimated 1 million lights and animated displays sprang to life with the flip of a switch. This year, that switch was manned by the Omeletty’s girl’s softball team.
Under the guidance of Mike Wyant since 1995, a crew of volunteers starts putting up the annual light display in August.
Though Cenida Bungardner has heard about the light display in the past, she never attended the opening ceremony. With her daughter, Samantha, a member of the softball team, that changed this year.
She said “the whole experience of it” was great, noting it will now be an annual thing for her family.
Another team parent, Erin Pearce, attended with her three children. They’ve attended before, she said, but it’s been sporadic.
“The last time we came it was freezing cold,” she said. “This is a lot of fun for the kids. It raises awareness that people are raising money. It’s fantastic to watch all the lights come on.”
Some made a special trip to Kokomo for opening night, including Autumn Baker, of Gas City. She visits annually with her mother. She loves the lights and encourages her friends to come to town for the display.
Jeremy Crow and his son Brayden are regulars at the lighting. They’ve been coming for 10 years.
“It’s unbelievable to see it light up,” he said. “That, and all the people.”
Sharpsville resident Donna Rice was attending the opening night ceremony with her husband after visiting with a sister in Kokomo.
“We thought we would come out,” she said. “I’ve never seen it, why not come?”
Rice said the warmer weather was a plus.
Prior to the lighting ceremony, members of the Kokomo Common Council announced the alley where We Care Park is located was being named to honor the Wyant family. A street sign, including the We Care heart logo, will be placed on each end of the alley.
“This is an honor for all my volunteers,” Mike Wyant said. “This is an honor for our family, which taught us to give back to the community.
“I love this community.”
The display will continue through Dec. 27, with donations going to We Care. Last year, the park took in more than $73,000 for the charity.