Westfield family uses annual animated light display to raise money for charity
Looking for that local house full of Christmas spirit? The one you swear Clark Griswold of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation decorated? It’s located at 14809 Victory Court in Westfield and Tom and Barb Lorek own the home, not Clark.
“Clark only had 25,000 lights and his didn’t blink,” Tom proudly proclaimed.
For at least three hours every night, the Victory home is transformed into a visual wonderland as the home’s exterior lights are animated and set to 16 songs.
“Everything we do is because we like it. The songs are ones we like. We only add elements that fit our display,” Tom said.
In addition to sharing their Christmas joy, the Loreks hope to raise the spirit of others. Each year, a donation box has been placed outside the home. Money raised has been donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society the past three years – a grand total of $10,000.
Selecting the charities the donations are sent to is personal for the Loreks. Barb explained that two neighboring families had members battling Leukemia and Tom’s father battled cancer.
“We selected Make A Wish because we wanted to spread the donations across charities where we believe in the cause,” Tom said. “Donations are quite a bit higher than last year to date.”
The Loreks started their annual Christmas display in 2009. Tom said the idea came from subdivision neighbors on Senator Way.
“We went over and took a look,” Tom said.
“We said ‘why don’t you do it?’ It was just a joke,” Barb said.
Tom took the lighthearted challenge and began researching animated displays. Instead of using expensive commercial products, Tom, who works in IT, became a member of the web community that designs their own electronics.
“What was sold $200 commercially could be built for $80,” he said. “There is a lot of hands-on work involved but part of the fun is doing it that way.”
Tom received free software to help write the sequencing program and tips and plans to build controllers and other electronics.
“My son, who was 12 years old at the time, helped with soldering,” he said.
Tom shared a few tricks of his display. PVC pipes are wrapped with lights to create the arches and tomato cages are bent, cut and shaped into miniature trees and snowflakes.
“I go through the same pains everyone else does, testing lights and finding the burnt out ones,” he said.
For their first display, Tom said the house had 45,000 lights. This year, that count is just under 70,000.
“Ninety-five percent are regular lights you get at Walmart or Lowes,” he said. “I try to stock up on after Christmas sales. One year I had two shopping carts full of lights. Stores do not have the inventory the last couple of years.”
Tom said he had thought about switching to LED lights, but the purchase price was the major deterrent. Also, because all of the lights are only on at the same time during certain parts of the show, the energy saved would not be significant.
“It’s not like my electric bill rises drastically,” he explained. “If its $30, I’d be surprised.”
It takes the Loreks three weekends to setup their display – and a handful of their son’s teenage friends – and just one weekend to tear it down. During the summer, Tom builds new elements to incorporate into their yard.
“It’s a hobby – tinkering with electronics and music,” Tom said. “It’s a lot of work to sequence a song. Every minute of music takes three to 10 hours of work. The show is almost 50 minutes this year.”
Unfortunately, there are Scrooges in the community that caused the Loreks problems, including a rabbit that chewed through one of the network cables.
“We considered not doing it this year because of the amount of effort and time,” Tom said, adding his children, Alex and Maddie, voiced their objection. “They had told their friends and teachers.”
Complaints were brought to the homeowners’ association board about their display. Barb said in previous years the subdivision had hosted a lighting contest and proudly boasted the work of several homes.
“In an instant it all turned. The board took a negative turn,” she said, adding the family did not want to be singled out. “If our lights went out than everybody’s lights needed to go out. They didn’t think about that.”
To try to be good neighbors, the Loreks have had time limits for the display every year and the speakers in their yard are barely audible from outside their front sidewalk. However, guests coming to see their home have caused traffic problems.
“We’re all out helping to direct traffic,” said Barb. “We’re not doing something to be difficult.”
The Loreks host an annual party on the Saturday following Thanksgiving and light the display for the first time.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the fruits of your labors,” said Tom. “You can visualize with the software and see a representation of the display, but it’s nothing like seeing it for real.”
The light show runs nightly through Dec. 29.
“It drops off tremendously after Christmas,” said Barb. “We almost had to turn the show off.”
What: Christmas on Victory
Where: 14809 Victory Ct.
When: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The display runs through Dec. 29.
Cost: Free, but donations will be accepted for Make a Wish