Rotary Lights display comes down

Display touts another great fundraising season

Wisconsin mornings bring with them the kind of cold that takes your breath away – but just as breathtaking is the light show that brought out volunteers bright and early to brace the temperature Wednesday.

After a successful season, dozens of volunteers helped to take down the Rotary Lights display in La Crosse’s Riverside Park. The light show raised more than $90,000 for local nonprofit organizations, surpassing organizers’ goals.

“For a community of our size, there’s nothing like it,” said Pat Stephens, president of the Rotary Lights Board.

Volunteers echoed his sentiment.

“There’s just not a community our size, and a lot of communities bigger than our size, that have what the Rotary Lights has put together,” said volunteer Dave Kies. A music teacher at West Salem, he brought dozens of his students to help un-string lights from the trees and break down the arch that has welcomed thousands into the shining spectacle this season.

The first of every January, La Crosse’s winter wonderland hits its expiration date, and a hundred of the 3,200 people who volunteer their time there over the season help to take it down. They spend the morning wrapping 2.6 billion Christmas lights around great spools, and ripping up light displays from the frozen ground. Some attractions are so frozen, they’ll wait to be removed until the first thaw of spring.


Every year, it’s cold – though these volunteers never seem to mind it.

“It’s fun because you have all the war stories of how cold it is,” Kies said. “You talk about that all the time, how cold it is.”

“When you dress for it, it’s not so bad,” Stephen adds. “A couple layers, boots, good gloves and so on, cover your ears and you should be okay.”

Once the tinsel has been taken from the trees, this spectacle loses a little bit of its magic. But even with nothing but tangled lights left at their feet, the volunteers who’ve been here all season still see the sparkling spectacle that enchants so many.

“I love to be here at night, when we get people from different parts of the state or Midwest,” Stephens says. “They shake their heads and say, ‘We have nothing like this back home.’ And I say, ‘That’s because you don’t live in La Crosse, Wisconsin.”