BUTLER, Ohio – It’s every parent’s dream to raise a child with goodwill in his heart.
This time of year, especially, it’s evident that Bob and the late Shirley Calhoon, and generations before them, have done just that.
Come Christmastime, families travel for miles to view the holiday joy the Calhoons share with all who pass by their farm in rural southeastern Richland County.
If it takes strings of thousands of Christmas lights to illuminate smiling faces, so be it.
Master plan. Each day after school in early November, 13-year-old Ashley Calhoon spent hours at her grandfather’s farm.
It wasn’t grandpa’s late-hatched quail, the crossbred cow herd, or her Haflinger horses that kept her there long past dinner time.
It was the 1920s house itself.
There was something gnawing inside her, an idea tossing in her mind and a certain spirit she couldn’t shake.
It was her holiday spirit. It was the same spirit that infected her mother and sister.
Minds, eyes, imaginations and Martha Stewart-like know-how were hard at work.
Over home. A short distance across a field from grandpa’s place near Butler, Ohio, Ashley had helped her mother Cindy and sister Brittany put Christmas decorations up inside their own home in late October.
“These girls were so excited to get things up. People coming here trick-or-treating were probably pretty confused when they saw the lights up,” Cindy confessed.
Well before Thanksgiving rolled around, the Calhoon’s own towering tree was up, casting a holiday warmth across their living room.
Over at grandpa Bob Calhoon’s, Ashley’s hours of work showed: a huge tree in the family room, lit and decorated as perfectly as those shown in magazines; pine swags and lights spread across the mantel and draped from antique cabinets; and red candle lights in each window.
Joe Calhoon, Ashley’s father, said she did a good job.
But for any average Joe, the real proof that this branch of the Calhoon family gets into the holiday spirit is easier to see – even from miles away.
An estimated 8,000 lights cut through even the heaviest fog or snowfall to guide all who come to see the farmstead’s holiday lights.
A real thrill. Cindy began stringing holiday lights outside when her daughters were just babies.
Come freezing temperatures, rain or snow, she remained steadfast in her project, year after year.
Even faced with many other tasks, Cindy made time to get the lights up. It was worth it to enjoy the thrill of others enjoying the decorations, she said.
In the dark. But last year, no lights went up. It was a dark time for the Calhoon family as they mourned the loss of their wife, mother, grandmother.
Others mourned the loss of the Calhoon’s Christmas lights.
Stories started to filter in that families had driven from Mansfield and Ashland to see the display but drove home in the snow and gusting winds without a glimpse.
The Calhoons hadn’t realized how far word of their display had reached. It was agreed that nobody would go home disappointed this year.
All-year project. After the 2002 holiday, Cindy and the girls raided the local Wal-Mart, filling at least two shopping carts with 70-percent-off light strands.
The wheels were in motion for this year’s display. It would be bigger, better and … at the farm.
Situated on an incline along state Route 95 and within sight of skiers at the local resort, the family knew they could catch some eyes.
Running out. “I didn’t think I’d ever run out of extension cords,” Cindy joked.
But she did, and then began borrowing them from Bob’s garage, his shop, her home garage, and anywhere else she could find one.
Later, after half a mile of electrical cords, one day with a bucket truck, and time spent dangling from the roof with only a rope around Cindy’s waist, this year’s display was ready to go.
“I’m serious, I was hanging face-first [off the farmhouse dormer] putting those lights up,” Cindy said.
Anxious. As anxious as a child waiting for Santa’s visit, Bob Calhoon could only wonder when his daughter-in-law would “get those lights turned on,” he said.
“I really love to look at ’em,” he said.
Cindy’s plan paid off. The farm took a top spot in the town of Butler’s annual lighting contest, marking the seventh consecutive year, save last year, the family has received the award.
Work at it. But it’s not all fame and glory.
Each evening when the timers kick on, the family heads out to be sure each strand is lit, the wooden cutouts are still standing, and the blow-up Santa hasn’t fallen.
With recent snowfall, they’ve also been rehanging lights pushed down by sheets of snow along gutters on the house and barn.
If need be, each bulb is again tested to find the one that killed the whole string.
“We even moved the calves earlier because they were licking [the lights along the paddock fence] and pulling the bulbs right out,” Ashley said.
Take a drive. On any given night in December, it’s evident passersby are gawking at the lights.
Drivers slow to take in the sight as they continue along the state route or turn down Hagerman Road.
“We get so many people down the road to look at the lights, we joke about putting a can [for money collection] at the end of the driveway,” Cindy joked.
“But it’s not about that for us. We do this just for the thrill of it. It makes Christmas that much more special for us,” she said.
Looking ahead. As for next year, Cindy’s already got a new design in mind.
“Now, I’ve just got to figure out how many lights I need. I’m sure I’ll need more,” she laughed.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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* You can see the Calhoon family’s Christmas light display from state Route 95, northeast of Butler, Ohio.
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