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The annual Chickasha Festival of Light, begun in 1993, uses more than 3.5 million lights and amasses an annual electric bill of fifteen thousand dollars.
Photo by KRISTI DAVIS
The unsung heroes of the holiday season, lights installers bring the sparkle to Oklahoma communities.
By KARLIE TIPTON
Published November 23, 2011
A waterfall cascades into a sparkling pool as a young deer bends its head to drink. Drivers crunch over the asphalt as they slowly survey this scene, but not to worry; not even the most thunderous of sport utility vehicles will disturb the serenity.
That’s because the animal, and its environs, were made by Michael Harris entirely out of tiny white lights.
Harris, who owns the Turfguard landscaping company, has been assembling inspired light displays for residents of Oklahoma City every Christmas for more than twenty-five years.
“Back in 1986, a woman in Nichols Hills had seen some lights in Beverly Hills that were wrapped around the trunk of a tree before anyone else was doing it here, and she asked me to do that,” Harris says. “People would drive by and ask her who had done her lights, and business just kind of grew from there.”
Although Harris’ arrangements may earn him anywhere from four hundred to five thousand dollars per installation and beyond, he also has witnessed the dark side of the holiday industry.
“It’s dangerous when you’re climbing on and off a ladder at two or three in the morning and there’s snow on the ground,” he says. “I’ve been shocked—hard—a couple of times.”
Fortunately for the 300,000 annual visitors to the Chickasha Festival of Light, Harris is not the only person willing to work hard for the sake of Christmas.
“Our crew connects the lights in the trees and on displays, walkways, and sidewalks to big electrical panels with more than a thousand extension cords,” says Greg Elliott, who has volunteered for the festival since the mid-1990s.
Chris Mosley, also a longtime member of the twelve hundred-member “Cord Crew” for the Chickasha festival, looks forward to the time he spends illuminating the forty-acre park every year.
“It’s really hard work checking thousands of strands of lights, but I’ve been doing this since 1993, and my kids have been coming with me since kindergarten,” Mosley says.
If not for one determined Chickasha resident, volunteers like Mosley and Elliott might have nothing to plug in.
“People, clubs, or businesses bring me their designs—if I don’t come up with them myself—and I cut the steel, weld the parts together, and my husband puts on the lights and paints them,” says Patti Rogstad, who began as a volunteer at the festival during its first year. Fourteen years ago, she took over creating the massive light sculptures. “We’ve had a lot of volunteers step in and help as well,” she says.
Rogstad, who learned to weld after growing tired of waiting for other people to make displays for her, now creates metal and light attractions up to forty feet tall.
“My favorite would have to be the displays I made for the Kiwanis Club a couple of years back,” she says. “There was a child going down a slide, one on a swing, and there was even one playing on a teeter-totter.”
For the residents of the Maple Ridge neighborhood in Tulsa, Christmas lights are no less a point of pride.
“It’s kind of a competition to see who can get their lights up first,” says Beverly Schafer, who lives on Norfolk Avenue. “Some people will turn on their lights on Halloween night.”
“When I was younger, the day the Christmas lights went up on the house was always the happiest day,” Harris says. “It’s magical that they can still bring out the kid in everyone.”
Get There: The Chickasha Festival of Light is November 22 to December 31 with a live nativity at 6:30 p.m. December 3 through 18. The event is free, though donations are welcome. 2400 South Ninth Street, (405) 224-9627 or chickashafestivaloflight.com Michael Harris at Turfguard landscaping can be reached at (405) 831-3079.