Ottumwa Life Holiday 2018 - Page 8

including an Iowa Hawkeyes ornament and a handwritten note from the young boy over the past three years. It’s one of many heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories behind the seven-year tradition in Central Park that has grown in popularity each year. The Lights of Love program, sponsored by Main Street Ottumwa, began in 2012 with 25 sponsored trees. Originally start- ed as a fundraiser, the program has grown to be so much more. The lighting ceremony on the Friday after Thanksgiving carries Ben and his daddy, Jeff Logan, in November 2015. Above, the tree tag that Ben Logan made for 2017 tree. Photos provided by Abby Leonard Thank You To Our Readers particular significance. “It’s just a great place to have people gather and be loving and supportive and caring,” said Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio. “People seem to connect. We share good memories and good experiences.” Abby Leonard said the tree-lighting ceremony helps Ben, a second-grader, realize that other people remember his daddy, too. Jeff Logan, an attorney, was a cyclist and rode RAGBRAI. After he died, the family had yellow rubber bracelets made that said, “Ride On, Jeff Logan.” The family was pleased last year to see that someone had put one of the bracelets on the tree dedicated to him. She said that, during the weeks when the trees are up, her family visits frequently to check on the ornaments, brush off the snow and make sure “everything is looking good.” Visiting the Lights of Love display several times during the Christmas sea- son is also a tradition for Connie Ferguson and her family. Ferguson sponsors two trees – one in memory of her husband, Jeff Ferguson, who died in 2015, and the other in memory of her late parents, George and Ida Kostas. She characterized the lighting ceremony, in which each tree is illuminated individually as the name of the honoree is spoken, as a “really special time.” “It’s so special to be there that evening,” she said. She calls it a “healing time,” especially for her grandchildren, who now number seven. “The people that light them are always so kind to let my grandkids plug in the tree,” she said. Fred Zesiger, director of Main Street Ottumwa, said the Lights of Love cer- emony, which culminates in the lighting of the big tree in Central Park, has drawn more people downtown. And the stream of visitors continues through the holiday season. “I see people up there pretty constantly looking at the trees,” he said. “At nighttime, it’s a very nice kind of peaceful place. It’s nice to see people in the park in the middle of winter.” Zesiger has shared the story of Ottumwa’s Lights of Love project at Main Street Iowa workshops he has attended, and other communities have picked up on the idea. In 2017, Washington, Iowa, initiated its own Lights of Love Memory Tree program, and it continues this year. Some of Ottumwa’s Lights of Love trees are sponsored by businesses that support the fundraiser. Other tree sponsors wish to remain anonymous. The trees remain lighted until the new year and are taken down the first week- end after Jan. 1. Still, in the weeks between Black Friday and New Year’s Day, the sight of the lighted trees with their signature red bows makes a profound impact. Tony Yencsik, who has served as the master of ceremonies for the lighting ceremony since the program began, says a “spirit of togetherness” is a hall- mark of the event. He calls it an honor to read the names as the trees are lighted. “It’s one of the highlights of my holiday,” he said. “In a way, it’s like a scene out of Dickens. It’s a very, very lovely setting for the holidays.” Lights of Love trees line Central Park during the 2017 holiday season. Photo by Tracy Goldizen www.ottumwacourier.com 641-683-4611