December 30, 2011

Easter Seals display funds provide needed therapy

Evansville Courier & Press - Printer-friendly story

Volunteers keep Ritzy's Fantasy of Light lit | GOOD MORNING COLUMN

Amy Abbott / Special to the Courier & Press
Friday, December 30, 2011
Our community is so blessed with a number of worthwhile charities that work year-round to make the lives of those less fortunate better. The people of the Tri-State are known for rallying around neighbors in times of difficulty or despair.
Except for the red kettles of the Salvation Army and the drives for the Santa Clothes Club, no local charity is more recognized at this time of year than the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center and its Ritzy's Fantasy of Lights.
More than a quarter million vehicles have driven past the displays in Garvin Park since the first one was erected there in 1994.
More than 80,000 holiday bulbs light this year's 61 themed displays. And this year, for the first time, music recorded by the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra plays on a low-frequency radio station as patrons drive through the park.
More than $2.2 million has been raised since 1994 to benefit children and adults with disabilities, people who are your family, your friends and your neighbors.
I am a volunteer at Easter Seals. My husband and I dutifully spent four hours last week at Garvin Park as nearly 300 vehicles drove through the amazing light show. Our assignment was to stay at headquarters (a warm trailer), distribute materials and walkie-talkies to other volunteers, and monitor any problems that might occur. This is a very cushy assignment, compared to what most people give for this event.
I was amazed by the tremendous amount of hard work involved by a large number of volunteers over a 10-week period each year.
Lieberman Technologies donates warehouse space in the old Hahn Building to store the colorful displays each year.
Local electricians, contractors, and Teamsters spend about 1,600 volunteer hours setting up and taking down the displays each year. The Evansville Police Department helps with traffic when the displays are moved by flatbed truck. Security services are donated by the Security Enforcement Division of Comair throughout the event.
While the glittering light displays make a spectacular showing in Garvin Park each year, it is truly the hearts of people like Tony Weiss and other long-term volunteers that illuminate the event. Weiss, a member of IBEW Local 16, has worked as a volunteer electrician every Sunday night during the Ritzy's Fantasy of Lights for the past 18 years. He is only one example; there isn't room to list them all.
For the outdoor volunteers working at the admissions booth, there is no warmth except what they receive in greeting the cars. The electrician on duty has to monitor the displays, bulbs go out every night based on weather conditions. Each night faithfully, community groups come out to volunteer, including Southwestern Indiana Building Trades, Women of AT&T, families of Rose Smith, Danette Romines, Al and Cathy Bragin, Katie Strueh, Chris Grider, Ann and Jim Coy, Betsy Fulton, SW Indiana State Alumni Club, Newburgh Civitan, Newburgh Junior Civitan, Northside Kiwanis, and Green River Kiwanis.
The generous folks at Ritzy's provide not only event support but also meals at set up and takedown.
Ritzy's Fantasy of Lights runs through Jan. 1. Why not gather your loved ones and take a drive to Garvin Park to see the spectacular displays? For more information, visit the website at
Amy Abbott