Kokomo — Despite a steady rain, several hundred area residents gathered Thursday night at We Care Park for the lighting of the traditional holiday display.
Minutes after hundreds of thousands of lights were switched on, there was a long line of people walking to the park area and cars were lined up along Gano Street.
The lighting of We Care Park was started many years ago by Mike Wyant as a way to raise money for the charity unique to Kokomo, which helps disadvantaged families at Christmas.
The display this year was bolstered by luminaries that were on the Howard County Courthouse lawn last year and by thousands of lights donated by a local family. The new light display includes a fire-breathing dragon.
Although the crowd was smaller than in previous years, by the 6 p.m. lighting there were people packed around the area where the switch was being thrown.
Last year Wyant received a winning bid of $2,600 for the honor of throwing the switch to light the displays. This year the honor brought in $10,000.
“No matter what the weather, we’re turning on the lights,” said Wyant, who started putting the display in place in August with help from a host of volunteers.
“That $10,000 is going to make a Merry Christmas for a lot of kids in Kokomo,” he said of the donation. “It’s all about the kids, I’m just a kid at heart.”
Wyant said the annual display is something that he loves to do for the community. It will remain lit until Dec. 27.
Last year the park raised $50,100 for We Care.
Amanda Shiraef was at the lighting ceremony with her family for the 11th year.
“We bring the family every year,” she said. “It’s the one thing we do, regardless of the weather. Actually it’s nice. There’s rain, but its warm. Last year was freezing.
Shiraef said her kids were excited about seeing the fire-breathing dragon this year.
Rebecca Hahn is another regular on the first night the park opens to the public.
“We come every year,” she said. “Rain, sleet, snow or hail, we’re here. We love We Care.”
Hahn said she was dressed for Thursday’s weather, adding that last year it was “pretty cold”.
“We love to see all these lights,” she said. “They’re always adding something new. We always try to figure out what the new items are every year.”
David Spoonemore said he normally comes to the park every year, but has been coming to the opening night the past few years.
“I come out because it’s a family tradition,” he said. “It’s always nice to see what all the lights look like. This is something different that you don’t always see in Kokomo.”
Spoonemore said the family will walk through the park to see what has been added.
“I’m not worried about a little rain,” he said, “typical Indiana weather.”