Festival of Lights returns in West Union, raising more than $8K after September vandalism

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WEST UNION, Iowa (KCRG) – An annual Christmas tradition opened in northeast Iowa Friday night, but this year required some last-minute fundraising, and some surprise help to help make it happen.

Lighted arches mark the entrance of the Festival of Lights in West Union on opening night, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. (Aaron Scheinblum/KCRG)

In late September, three juveniles admitted to vandalizing light fixtures that went around a pond at a park near the West Union Rec Center. The park is operated by the West Union Rec Foundation, and it’s entirely run through volunteers and donations. The park is on North Pine St. just down the road from North Fayette Valley High School.

“[We] got the contact names, and met with them up here, with their parents, talked it through,” said Norm Einck the President of the West Union Rec Foundation “It was an option if they wanted to. Otherwise, we would be pursuing criminal charges.”

That “it”: help put together the display that means so much to so many- and organizers said that help with a long way.

“They even called me and complimented their work,” Einck said. “That was pretty neat.”

Einck said between online and in-person donations, the foundation received more than $8,000 in donations in just the last two months after the vandalism. He said they will use the money for new LED street lamps, and potentially add wi-fi and security cameras.

Despite the rain and the fog, the lights marked the early arrival of Christmas in West Union- and Kristyn Kell and her family made sure to be there when it did.

“This where I grew up and so we obviously had our family Thanksgiving yesterday,” Kell said. “And we always come up every year at Christmas time to see the lights. And it’s always so beautiful, but we’re never usually here on the tree lighting. But we are this year, which is pretty special.”

But this year for her family, it means a little more than in years past, personifying the importance and meaning of the Festival of Lights.

“My dad passed away a couple weeks ago,” Kell said. “And they have a choir of angels. And we dedicated an angel to him and so. All my siblings and I are here to celebrate Dad’s life and to watch the tree lighting for a pretty special, special night for all of us.

So while the money will help the park, it secured a tradition that means a lot to thousands of visitors.

“Even though this is gonna kind of be a sad holiday season for us, it’s still really important to have that gratitude and be grateful for all that we have and for this opportunity for a small town, it’s just awesome,” Kell said.

The Festival of Lights in West Union is open every night through New Year’s from 5-10 p.m.


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