Expanded Christmas Lights Bring On The Razzle-Dazzle

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Christmas on the Harbor will take place at Drake Harbor on December 13 - 14 this year with all of the expected holiday excitement, food and events. The City-made light displays will brighten and beautify the harbor, Main and Commercial Streets. New this year are lighted snowflakes decorating the area around Walmart, and candy cane displays surrounding the courthouse. More trees have also been wrapped and lighted. The schedule has been slightly altered so that the hayride will take place Friday night in order to allow the Christmas parade on Saturday the grand finale.
This celebration will include a Chili/Soup Dinner, Christmas Trees Charity Contest, Christmas Parade, and Breakfast with Santa. The Grinch will visit and a Candy Cane Hunt will take place.
Christmas décor on and around the harbor began getting very creative in about 2010, when City crews took over the planning, designing and building of lighted displays. During the 2010 Christmas season there were 10 lighted displays, and the number has increased each year. The City crewmen responsible for the creation of these holiday wonders are Josh Reno, who designs the displays, Ronnie Jackman, Phillip Pierce, and Lester Day. The City plans to increase holiday lights and to refresh displays every year.
“We are going to continue to expand Christmas decorations into the future,” said Warsaw Mayor Eddie Simons. “There is a lot of area that stretches from White Park to the Swinging Bridge and we want to make this a place where people make a trip to see the lights. And, it is important to freshen up the displays so they do not see the same things every year. This will attract people to the area and bring them to down town. We plan to place lights and wreaths on the Swinging Bridge in the near future.”
The public really began to take notice of the displays in 2014 with the creation of an elaborate 40-foot steamboat, financed by a grant from the Benton County Tourism Commission. The First Annual Christmas on the Harbor took place at Drake Harbor on December 12, 2015. And, the first year that Christmas on the Harbor began celebrating for two days was December 8, 2017. At that time there were 1,000 lights on display.
Several City and Chamber of Commerce personnel provided information about the “Festival of Lights” that was a precursor to our current Christmas on the Harbor.
“The Festival of Lights was started by the Truman Lake Association (Thought to be in the 1990s),” said Jill Keehn, a team member at the office of Suzie Brodersen State Farm Insurance Agency. “Organizations and businesses would set up lighted Christmas displays at the Corps of Engineers campground at Long Shoal, and people could drive through to enjoy them. The festival was active on weekends starting at Thanksgiving, and every night from Christmas until the New Year. When the association disbanded, it asked the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce to take it over. I was director of the chamber at the time and we were doing most of the tourism work for the City. I coordinated the event for eight years. My husband played Santa Claus and my children dressed up as Frosty and Rudolph. Various organizations began to help set up displays prior to Thanksgiving. Free electricity was provided by Osage Valley Electric, and of course, the Corps of Engineers provided the land. We raised some funds from donations given by visitors at the gate and used it to help buy décor. Our last Festival of Lights was in December 2003.”
Mac Vorce, current director of the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce, said that some of the decorations from Festival of Lights were donated to Warsaw. He said that the displays were fixed by City crewmen and one of the originals was repaired and now sits outside the Chamber office. It is a snowman on a sleigh with a couple of reindeer. 
Vorce was City of Warsaw Parks and Recreation Director when the City inherited some of the décor from Festival of Lights.
“Parks and Recreation at the time did not have money for lighted displays, but has since put funds into the budget to fix displays or upgrade them,” said Vorce.
When visitors begin dropping by the Drake Harbor location to view Christmas lights, they may also be impressed by the new facelift at the Community Building. A couple of years ago, new shingles were put on the roof and new windows installed in the back of the building that faces Drake Harbor.
“Painting was completed a couple of weeks ago (early in November), and we have replaced rotted wood,” said Randy Pogue. “We should have new windows in the remainder of the building in another couple of weeks (the first week of December). The Community Building is a major part of the downtown revitalization and waterfront development. Because of the location and historical significance, it is a key structure for family recreation, civic events, festival use, and in the future it could be used for small conferences. We have already held a couple of conferences.”