Ashland’s Festival of Light will celebrate its 25th anniversary the Friday after Thanksgiving this year, almost a generation's worth of memories. Thousands of children have enjoyed the festivities that kick off the Christmas holiday season in Ashland. The holiday parade, caroling, the Grand Illumination and maybe getting to sit on Santa’s lap.
A favorite memory growing up in Connecticut in the 1950s was when the family jumped into the station wagon with a big bag of buttered popcorn and thermoses of hot chocolate for the kids and hot toddies for the adults. For the price of a tank of gas, the family could have a great night singing holiday carols while looking at houses all lit up and decorated. Constitution Plaza in Hartford was a must stop. They had little white lights on all the buildings and in all the trees and sculptures.
When I moved my business to Ashland in 1990, the town was decorated in 20-year-old, hand-me-down plastic candy canes and candles and there really wasn’t much of a holiday celebration. Talking about this with friends and local business owners, several ideas were tossed about and we came back to my experiences in Connecticut and the little white lights outlining the architecture and the trees. Sandy Spaulding, a B&B owner, had seen first-hand how a holiday light celebration brought the community and guests from neighboring towns together in a small town in Texas. They also had a fundraising candlelight tour of decorated homes.
Having been a contractor in California I felt confident that with a good group of volunteers we could get the buildings decorated. I asked all the downtown businesses to donate $100 to cover the cost of the lights for their buildings that we would hang for free. It is a testament to the generosity of our business community that almost 100 of them signed up and with that seed money we bought enough lights to get the job done.
Our weekly meetings had an interesting cast of characters from all sectors of the community: a children's book author, P.K. Hallinan; a ski shop owner from Medford; B&B and retail business owners; and interested members from the community.
Over the summer the Chamber of Commerce joined the effort, and Sandra Slattery put their considerable staff and resources into play. We had over 2,000 hours donated, and after spending 100 days hanging lights we all were worn out by Thanksgiving. There were too many volunteers to list them all, but Ken Silverman from Nimbus and Dean Fortmiller from Fortmiller’s department store and Graham Lewis, a B&B owner, were integral to the effort. Sandy Spaulding organized the home tour, Bob Jennings Paint contractors loaned us the tall ladders we needed and Tom Meyers of Upper Limb It tree service and I spent two weeks decorating the pilasters of the old Mark Antony (Lithia Springs Hotel). He would rappel down the side of the building with drills and tools while I sent light strands zip-tied to parachute cord over the roof time and time again. Thank God for elevators. Sheldon McBride had just moved to Ashland and he volunteered with me all 100 days hanging lights, a marathon effort. City crews used their boom trucks to hang lights on City Hall and the trees on the Plaza. TCI Cable and US West donated their boom trucks for the hard-to-reach places. Bob Matthews prepared the persuasive presentation describing the potential economic benefit that was presented to the City Council to get their support. Eric Warren designed the logo and promotional flier.
A local Boy Scout troop took the old lanterns and restored them and glued the lights to the outside after Anderson's Auto Body did the metal repair. Mike and Norika Hansen from Gold and Gems helped coordinate the Grand Illumination and the Candlelight Tour of Homes, and George Schumacher helped with fundraising. The true spirit of giving filled many hearts with happiness and the oohs and aahs of the townsfolk at the moment of the Grand Illumination made it all worthwhile.
Thanks for the memories, Ashland.
— Dave Bobb lives in Talent.