By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
---- — When more than 1 million Christmas lights go on in We Care Park on Thanksgiving, organizer Mike Wyant will have three people in mind.
In his 19th year coordinating the light display as a fundraiser for We Care Inc., Wyant wants to dedicate this year’s event to loved ones who recently passed away. The lights are in memory of Ashley Jean Wyant, his brother’s 17-year-old granddaughter who died in January; Edwina McBee, a 92-year-old neighbor who died in September; and Virginia Severns, a friend of Wyant’s who died in June.
Numerous people will benefit from the We Care Park light display as all proceeds collected through freewill donations will go to We Care Inc., a nonprofit that supports the Kokomo Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, the Kokomo Tribune-sponsored Goodfellows, Bona Vista Rehabilitative Services, the Mental Health America of Howard County Holiday Gift Lift program and the We Care Hope Fund. Last year, the light display raised $75,000.
“It’s one of the biggest light displays around,” Wyant said. “My favorite part of the lighting is that it’s all about God. There’s a nativity scene and three crosses that we built this year. To hear the kids talk, their favorite part is the dragon that actually blows fire.”
On Friday, Vernon and Shirley Graves bought the right to flip the switch and turn the lights on. Omlettey’s Restaurant, which has won the switch bid in past years, donated $10,000 to the cause, bringing the total raised in the flip auction to $11,900.
The switch will be thrown at 6 p.m. on Thursday at We Care Park, located at the corner of Gano and LaFountain streets. Attendees can walk or drive through the park and a block of the surrounding neighborhood to take in the light display. Steve Barker, of Barker’s B&K in Kokomo, will provide hot chocolate.
“The whole neighborhood gets involved, so we appreciate that,” Wyant said. “There’s so many good people who help me do this. I couldn’t do this without the support of the community.”
Santa will make an appearance on Thursday, riding in a city of Kokomo fire truck with a police escort. We Care Park will be open from 6 to 9:30 p.m. every night through Dec. 27.
Wyant and his group of dedicated volunteers are happy to install the massive light display each year.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said. “It’s just my way of giving back to the community because I love Kokomo. I’m proud to be a part of this community.”