The Grandpa Gang, a group of retirees and volunteers, organizes and designs a Christmas spectacular of cascading lights, tunnels and displays for visitors and locals to enjoy each year. Each evening, the park sparkles against the night sky with 3 million glistening lights, all hung by volunteers and the “gang.”
From now until Dec. 28, the work of a group of rambunctious retirees results in what has become a resplendent Alton tradition … the Christmas Wonderland light display at Rock Spring Park is back!
“Everyone you talk to has been through the display at some point,” Grandpa Gang president and “head grandpa” Bob Osburn says. “It is a big part of the holiday for the community. I never get tired of seeing the response from kids when they see the lights.”
For a suggested donation of $7 per car and $1 per person for trolleys, vans and other “group” vehicles can enter a twinkling, colorful world of holiday beauty at Rock Spring Park. A one- to one-and-a-half mile “walk night” will be held on Dec. 1, with a suggested donation of $1 per person.
More than 2.5 million lights have been used for the exhibit, creating a sprawling mass of electric waterfalls, animals and more.
The history of the Grandpa Gang’s efforts stretches back as far as 1988. From 1992 until 2008, the group was headed up by Carl Davis, along with assistant Dick Disher. When Davis passed away in 2008, the group was down to about four people and needed some new blood.
“You don’t have to be a grandpa,” Osburn laughs. “If you have the time to volunteer, you’re good enough to be in the Grandpa Gang.”
Each morning, that day’s volunteers meet in the park and go through the day’s itinerary. The group of dedicated volunteers does the majority of work, hanging lights and cleaning the park. Osburn says Al Cowgill, Will Patridge, Jim Witt, and Buck Hord are the longest-serving members of the Grandpa Gang.
“It usually takes about 13 weeks, from the middle of September until Thanksgiving. We try to devote four weeks to the wooden displays, four weeks for the electrical work, and four weeks for the final decorations and lighting.”
In years past, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Edwardsville S.W.A.P. program provided workers. This year, Alton PACUP (Probation Alton Clean Up Partnership) has offered assistance.
“We take the proceeds each year and give back to the community,” Osburn says. “We can usually find about $40,000 to give to 30 to 40 different organizations.”
So what are you waiting for? Turn off your headlights, turn on the holiday music, and let the Grandpa Gang’s efforts put you in the Christmas spirit!