Let there be light

| December 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

Amazing Christmas displays you’ll want to see

The Catholic Spirit asked readers to let us know about amazing Christmas light displays around the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. You responded, telling us about some spectacular ones.

We have chosen three recommended by readers, and photographed by Dave Hrbacek, to show on these pages. We also picked one of our own to feature.

Enjoy the work of these local “light” artists, and please go see them for yourself with family and friends to share in the Christmas spirit.

 LightsBartolomeiDorothy and Al Bartolomei
92 Oakwood Drive,
Belle Plaine, MN 56011

Belle Plaine is a one-hour drive from downtown St. Paul, but the Bartolomeis make it worth the drive with their delightful display. They have been decking the outdoors since 2007, their first Christmas in Belle Plaine after moving from Michigan.

The crown jewel of this year’s display is a 10-foot sign with their theme: “Happy Birthday Jesus. You Light Up My Life.”

The Bartolomeis, members of Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine, had help with the sign from a fellow parishioner, Christine Shudy, who designed it. Fabrication and installation were difficult, but that’s all part of the fun — and the many hours that go into their finished display.

“I love Christmas,” Dorothy said. “I can’t wait for [the] Christmas [season] to start. I know I make a mess. I make a mess in the garage and dig out everything. But, it’s just so fun. My daughter came down one day, and she and I spent three hours on one tree, decorating every branch. Al didn’t think it was wise to spend that much time on one tree, but it was fun. Many times when I’m out there, I’m praying as I decorate. I’m praying, ‘Oh please, God, help me. Help us get this done.’ Actually, it’s my therapy. It’s really my therapy, and I’m trying to get him [Al] to be in therapy with me.”


LightsSchmidtRoger Schmidt
921 Shakopee Ave. E.
Shakopee, MN 55379

Schmidt used to race cars. So, it’s only natural that motors are a part of his light display, which he started doing in 2000.

“There are nine motors out there,” he said. “And, we’ve got a train that goes all the way around the one side of the yard. It has a
3 ½-horse Honda motor in it.”

He estimates there are 130,000-plus lights in the display. Fortunately, he has some quality help, from his parents, Lavina and Paul Schmidt of Sts. Joachim and Anne of Shakopee, and his sister Rena Lehman.

Many of the lighted structures are motorized. In addition to the train, there are two merry-go-rounds, a Ferris wheel and swings.

“It’s getting bigger all the time,” he said.

He also has a live Santa and Mrs. Claus on hand the weekend before Christmas and the week of Christmas — long-friend Jeff Stark and his wife Lori. Plus, there are games for kids in the garage, along with arts and crafts.

“They can make cards for their moms or Christmas ornaments or whatever else they want to make,” Roger said. “We do coloring contests for three age groups with a $50 prize for each one. They each get a $50 cash prize for first place. We’ve got hot chocolate and coffee, cookies and munchies for everyone who stops in.”


LightsStrandlofJoe and Bri Strandlof
6451 Beckman Court
Inver Grove Heights, MN 55077

When you pull up in front of the Strandlof home, you’ll want to do two things: 1. Tune in to 97.9 FM, and 2. Bring some food items to drop off for the less fortunate.

Strandlof secured an open frequency to broadcast music that people can play on their radios while they watch his lights, which blink in sync with the music.

It might seem complicated, but Joe runs it all from a laptop. The difficult part is setting up the lights, which takes five days. The motorized Ferris wheel alone takes two days.

But, it’s all a labor of love for Joe and Bri, who belong to Holy Trinity in South St. Paul.

“I’m a tool and die maker by trade,” said Joe, who has been doing the display since he moved into his current house in 2006. “I do a lot of that kind of stuff. I love it. When we went on our honeymoon [four years ago], we were in Jamaica in August. We’re sitting by the pool and I’m throwing out ideas for [the light display]. It’s true. It doesn’t matter what time of year, something will pop into my head.”

As much as he enjoys the light display, he’s also proud of the food he collects for an organization called Neighbors, Inc., which serves northern Dakota County. Last year, visitors to his house donated 750 pounds of food and $750.

Joe’s parents, Joe and Sue Strandlof, also parishioners at Holy Trinity, help set up the display. And his brother, Ben, dresses up as Santa a day or two before Christmas and hands out candy to visitors.


LightsWolszonJohn and Jo Wolszon
14196 Upper 54th St. N.,
Oak Park Heights, MN 55082

Employees of The Catholic Spirit know all about the Wolszons’ spectacular lights. That’s because John worked for the newspaper for almost 40 years before retiring in October. He and Jo have been displaying their award-winning lights for 26 years, the length of time he and Jo, who belong to St. Mary in Stillwater, have lived in their current home.

Four years ago, John noted, their display won a contest sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. One look at his lights explains why — 35 lighted artificial trees, 117 Christmas figures, and lights covering all four sides of his home.

“I enjoy doing it,” said John, who is the mastermind of the operation. “My two daughters, my son, their spouses, all help. All year long, we receive compliments from people all over the place thanking us for what we do. I’ve had the mayor of Oak Park Heights thank me for doing it, for putting Oak Park Heights on the map. I just enjoy doing it, and I really like that first night when we finally light everything up and I get to see what we’ve created. That’s the only reason. I’m not looking for recognition, I’m not looking for awards. We have fun. It gets the family together for six weekends to create this thing.”

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Category: Christmas, Featured