$400 Prize Awaits Best Holiday Lighting Display

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Ted Spinney goes all out in decorating his home (photo from last year) for the Christmas season. He was a winner in last year’s Holiday Lighting Contest.

The fifth annual Holiday Lighting Contest for residents of Payson and Star Valley boasts a whopping $400 first prize this year.

Entries are due at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce by 9 a.m., Monday, Dec. 14. Entry forms are available at the chamber office at the corner of Beeline Highway and West Main Street or online at www.rimcountrychamber.com. The online registration is recommended.

Judging will be held the evenings of Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, with winners announced Friday, Dec. 18.

In addition to the $400 first prize; $250 will be awarded to the second-place entry; $150 to the third-place display; and four honorable mentions will each be awarded $50.

APS, the Town of Star Valley, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Payson Roundup are sponsoring the 2009 Holiday Lighting Contest.

The story of last year’s winner

Next year, someone may share a story similar to that of Ted Spinney, written by his grandson Justin Stein of Chandler.

If you have driven down Chatham Drive around Christmas time the last few years, I’m sure you have noticed a Christmas display that even Clark Griswold would be proud of.

That house belongs to Ted Spinney, who is relatively new to Payson, but his light display has become a hot spot for light viewing in the area.

However, this story isn’t just about the lights or the effort it takes this 72-year-old man to put them up, it’s about his journey that took him from neighborhood Ebenezer Scrooge to the man who embodies the Christmas Spirit.

His journey started 11 years ago when this retired city employee lived alone in a modest home in Riverside, Calif. He was known by neighborhood kids as “Mr. Wilson” and it was commonplace to hear him yelling at the children playing on his lawn or making too much noise.

When Christmas time came around, his home shared the same emptiness as his grumpy attitude — there were no lights or snow globes, no lawn ornaments or stockings hung, just a sad little tree, not even a foot tall, that was pulled from the attic and placed begrudgingly on his coffee table ... the same routine that he had gone through the last several years ... the routine he thought would go on for several more, but that was before he met Lonna.

Ted and Lonna met on a blind date and she was everything that he was not — cheerful, understanding and sweet. And although they were quite the opposites, they fell in love and eventually married.

On their first Christmas together, Ted brought down the same pathetic tree and with a little encouragement from his new love, the small coffee table Christmas tree was accompanied by a 2-foot-tall Christmas tree that barely had enough room to fit presents under it. The next year a strand of lights went up. The next year, a few more; then a yard snow globe and an even bigger Christmas tree. But it wasn’t just the house that was changing each year, it was Ted as well.

The same kids that were scared of him and were often yelled at for trivial kid behavior saw the lights as a change in “Mr. Wilson” and started to come around to talk with him or to look at his lights and found that there was less yelling and more smiling, even occasionally candy and ice cream.

The neighbors who once had a disdain for this scrooge even presented him with a plaque for his decorations, which had grown from that small tree to an average house display with an inflatable Santa and snowman.

Ted and Lonna left the hustle and bustle of California three years ago, trading the smog for the cool mountain air. It may have been that air or their big move, but something changed in him even more drastic than before.

His first Christmas in Payson he went overboard with the lights and the Christmas decorations inside and out at his house ... and he found that it wasn’t just to make Lonna happy anymore; he wanted to share his happiness with everyone else around the neighborhood.

He got such a positive response that the next year he put up even more elaborate and well thought out decorations.

Which brings us to this year. I went shopping with Ted and Lonna in July and I watched as each time it took two carts to fit all the new lights and decorations, which barely fit in the trunk of their car.

Since it is so much work to put the many lights up, Ted started in the middle of October so they could be done for his neighbors to enjoy on Thanksgiving night.

After they were all up, they went outside to turn it on and enjoy his creation and in Clark Griswold fashion, they blew out the breaker box. Ted had to get the breaker box replaced with a new, bigger and better model so he could have enough power for the lights.

What a journey it has been from the small Christmas tree that sat alone on the coffee table — it is still put up as a reminder of how much his life has changed.

You may ask why I know so much about these people and their story. My grandmother is Lonna and I have had a front seat to this whole transformation.

When I first met Ted, I was 11 and he was the brash, scary man who was dating my Grandma and over the years, as I grew up and his heart softened, I am proud to say he turned into my grandfather, who I love very much.

I have learned so much about life and love and the powerful effect it can have on a person’s life through my grandparents.

In a holiday that can get us more wrapped up in the perfect presents or the perfect meal rather than one of the few times of the year when the best in people comes out, I urge all of you to take a step back and enjoy your lives and treat the people around you with kindness and you never know whose life you may change and you may find that kindness changes your own life ... and when you drive down Chatham Drive to see the Spinney home, smile — not just because of the lights, but for the man whose life has changed because of them.

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