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Another Christmas season has come and gone, and each year leaves us with special memories.

I think it was 1985 when a group of neighbors on a circle drive in North Mankato elaborately decorated their homes with Christmas lights and figurines. It was quite an attraction, and the news quickly spread that it was the sight to see. Our family drove over. Coincidentally, one of the first homes on that circle drive was my mother’s cousin and her husband, Gary and Mona Lee. 

Many cars full of people came to see the extravaganza. As Mona watched all the people enjoy the neighborhood lights, it occurred to her they could use their display of lights to help others, by collecting food for the needy. 

Mona started phoning her neighbors, most of whom felt it was a good idea. So beginning in 1988 a "Santa House" was set up in the area each year, with an invitation for those who came to enjoy the Christmas decorations to bring food to share with others less fortunate.

They never dreamed that their word-of-mouth venture, without publicity, would attract so much attention, but that first year they took in 400 pounds of food and $200 in cash. On the last year they collected over $5,000 in cash and a ton of food.

I forgot to ask Mona how many years they continued the event. Mona said the trees that had been small when they first began, had grown so large it made decorating difficult. They later had to use a city boom truck, along with a volunteer boom truck from Mapleton, to help decorate the trees. A group of neighborhood volunteers, including Mona’s nephew’s fraternity, helped decorate and hang lights.

Is it any wonder, what these people started so many years ago would come to my mind when Daryl and I drove over to Mankato before Christmas to see the Kiwanis Holiday Lights at Sibley Park? They too collected money and canned donations for the food shelf. 

When I came home I contacted the Lees (who still live in Mankato but spend winters in Sun City, AZ) about the event they began oh, so many years ago. 

Mona said it had been a hard thing to let go, because it was a great bonding time for the whole neighborhood and she was thankful her family had a part in it. It became a unique and wonderful neighborhood as they spent so many hours working together.

I have learned the homeless and hungry crave more than food. They need companionship and interaction with others along with the gift of the human touch. People need to "hang out" with friends. I find that is also true of those who are providers and give of their time and talents.

People need people; it is as simple as that!

Maybe that is why the Kiwanis had such a huge success when they first lit up Sibley Park in Mankato with holiday lights in 2012. Sibley was open for 39 nights for a total of 168 hours of operation during the Christmas season in 2012, and 53 nonprofit groups helped to set up the display of lights, as well as help take them back down again. As a result, over 30,000 vehicles and 100,000 people enjoyed the Christmas lights that first year. I know Daryl and I enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful lights, especially the Grand Lawn Displays, which included a 60' tall Christmas tree of lights.

Those who came last year donated just over 13 tons of food, which went to 12 area food shelves; as well as close to $30,000 to the nonprofit groups who helped the Kiwanis organization with the event. It turned out to be such a huge success, they decided to do it again in 2013.

This year the Kiwanis worked with the Mankato Area Foundation on the addition of the Mary Dotson synthetic ice rink, which offered a unique and memorable skating experience for people to enjoy under the lights, no matter what the temperature.

"The constant in my mother's life was the joy of being surrounded by kids.” Mary Dotson's son, Denny, wrote. “One of the ways mom chose to do that was by providing a skating rink, which she did for nearly 50 years, next to her home in west Mankato. The skating rink was her opportunity to interact with the neighborhood children and watch them grow. My mother would be very pleased, as are all of her children and grandchildren, with the skating rink in her memory at Sibley Park, especially a rink that doesn't need flooding and can be used on the warmest of winter days! I hope this community, and its visitors, will enjoy the Mary Dotson Skating rink for years to come."

The Kiwanis this year also included a lighted computer-animated walking tunnel that complimented the lighted driving tunnel, both choreographed to the Dancing Lights area. The Santa's Toy Company display, which was also included in the display of lights, came from the Winter Wonderland display in Blue Earth.

Children of all ages were able to visit Santa in his workshop and see his live reindeer. Visitors also enjoyed horse-drawn wagon rides and live music on weekends.

On our return trip home Daryl and I made our yearly stop at the Vince Peterson farm, north of New Richland, to take in Vince’s Christmas display he has been maintaining for 32 years. 

Vince told me the squirrels also enjoy his Christmas lights, and he had to replace 10,000 of them when he put out his decorations this year.

Thank you, Vince, for sharing the Christmas spirit with so many of us. Your gift is a real treasure to enjoy.

People helping other people, sharing the holiday spirit with others, and their only reward is the joy of giving itself. As we see, the feeling is infectious and inspiring - the kind acts of one or two spread to others, who then band together to spread the spirit. 

Isn’t that what charity, and the holidays, ought to be? Sharing with others, as shown by the examples above - NOT about shopping, “Black Friday,” or gift wrapping. 

That feeling of giving and sharing doesn’t have to be limited to Christmas. In our close-knit rural communities, you can read about community giving and sharing in almost every issue of this newspaper.

And that’s why we live where we do. 

Birthdays and anniversaries:

• Thursday, Jan. 9: Melinda Hanson Talamanates, Lisa Dunn Wayne, Mark Lee, Adam Deml, Jay Wangsness, Steve Vanden Heuvel, Becky Wayne Clark, Larry Jensen, Allen Dobberstein, Allan Swearingen, Dan & Lavonne Nelson

• Friday, Jan. 10: Sue Hunnicutt, Martha Jacobson, Gary Nelson, Eldert & Avis DeRaad, Robert & Eleanor Leiser

• Saturday, Jan. 11: Melissa Farr, Rick Hanson, Nanko DeRaad, Deb Robertson Hare, Brad Nelson, Kelly Reichl, Alvin & Ardys Nelson, Dennis & Barb Grunwald

• Sunday, Jan. 12: Heather Mattson Johnson, Macy Misgen, Albert Diaz, Barry Jepson, Cindy Farner, Brian Milan, Chris Wilker

• Monday, Jan. 13: Lacey & Brad Grutzik, 2013, Julia Anne Marlin, Melonie Crabtree, Rita Sletten Nelson, Diane Lee, Haley Butler, Tracy Utpadel, Jay Brown, John Olson, Tracy Bergerson, Marion Hoffman, Bruce Haberman, Gregory David, Jack & Gloria Jensen

• Tuesday, Jan. 14: Brooke Sorenson Krohn, Marlys Sorenson, Darla Hagen Matthees, Christine Hanson, Skyler Cromwell Lembke, Jenna Marie Abbott, Mark Langlie, Ryan & Kerri Wagner

• Wednesday, Jan. 15: Steve Bailey, Paul Christensen, Emily Crabtree, Angela Borchert, Brian Farr

• Thursday, Jan. 16: Carter Howard Hanson, Kiley Beenken, Craig Bailey, Remi Wayne, Joshua Crabtree, Joni Groth, Jeff Kaplan, Tracy Tracy, Melissa Wagner, Emily Bedker, Tena Bryce, Jeremy Anderson

• Friday, Jan. 17: Ava Elizabeth Schember, her 6th; Blake Michael Born/Norday, Don Anderson, Jan Bartsch, Annette Busho, LuAnn Johnson Prescher, David Strenge, Mike Peterson, Brayden Broitzman, Kayley Camerer

Life is a journey we begin each day - wishing that each new day is happier than the day before. Surprise somebody. Call someone. Send a card and make their day. Little things mean a lot.  

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