Park Ridge Christmas: Lights Included

Volunteers step in to put up holiday lights

Christmas was looking very iffy for 7-year-old Ben Ryles and the other children of Park Ridge.

You see, the city couldn't afford to pay someone to wrap holiday lights around the downtown trees -- and Ben feared Santa Claus would race across the night sky, failing to notice his town.

"Even though he has Rudolph, he probably wouldn't see where the houses are," Ben explained.

But a Christmas catastrophe has been averted.

About 200 people -- including dozens of kids -- are volunteering to string 60,000 twinkling white lights around town on Saturday, a job that usually costs the city about $47,000.

This turns out to be a great relief for Park Ridge City Manager Jim Hock, who was starting to feel like the Grinch after his 2009-10 budget slashed the holiday lighting to help fill a $2 million shortfall.

"The grief doesn't come until people suddenly show up and [say], 'What do you mean there are no lights?' " Hock explained.

For Mayor David Schmidt, cutting the holiday lights was a no-brainer.

"Everybody loves having Christmas decorations," Schmidt said. "But you have to make a choice: Do you string Christmas lights, or do you cut a policeman or a fireman from the payroll?"

Nevertheless, the mayor -- who traditionally turns on the lights during the day after Thanksgiving Winterfest -- says the volunteer effort is "fantastic."

Jim Bruno, a Park Ridge banker, is one of the organizers of Saturday's event, which will include members of the local Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Indian Scouts decorating about 180 trees.

"It's been a very difficult year for our merchants and for a lot of the families in town, and we're trying to end the year on a bright note," Bruno said.

Meanwhile, Ben, who is a Cub Scout, can't wait to start stringing lights.

"As long as my dad helps me get the lights up to the top, then I'm fine," he said.

He doesn't care to imagine what Christmas would be like without the traditional holiday glow.

"If we had no Christmas lights, it would be so boring, I would bore myself out," he said.

Copyright CHIST - SunTimes
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