Photo by Eric Stauffer
A display at the 2014 Christmas Wonderland.
The dedication, sweat and tears of a group of rambunctious retirees has once again resulted in what has become a resplendent area tradition … the Christmas Wonderland light display at Rock Spring Park.
“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, one can enter a twinkling, colorful world of holiday beauty. A one-to-one-and-a-half mile “walk night” will be held Nov. 30 (the Monday after Thanksgiving) with a suggested donation of $1 per person.
More than 2.5 million lights have been used once again for this year’s exhibit, creating a sprawling mass of electric waterfalls, animals and more.
“We thank our new renovation committee,” Osburn says. “They gave us a completely rebuilt ‘12 Days of Christmas’ display, along with a new Snoopy, Santa display, and a most impressive ‘Frozen’ billboard.”
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 dwindled to about four people and needed some new blood.
Al Cowgill, Will Patridge and Jim Witt are the longest-serving members of the Grandpa Gang.
“You don’t have to be a grandpa,” Osburn laughs. “If you have time to volunteer, you’re good enough to be in the Grandpa Gang. Our average age is 70-plus and actually needs to be supplemented with younger retirees.”
The work usually takes about 13 weeks, from the middle of September until Thanksgiving. As a rule, four weeks are devoted to the wooden displays, four weeks for the electrical work, and four weeks for the final decorations and lighting.
Once again, 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 or 40 different organizations.”