Kiwanians in this Ohio village bring a festive holiday atmosphere to a community park.
Submitted by the Kiwanis Club of Coldwater, Ohio
Photos by Greta Bell
The park in this small village is the envy of many communities in the area. It spans a full square mile and is home to playground equipment, ball diamonds and courts, shelter houses, a swimming pool and lots of shade trees.
Each winter the laughter of children and cheers of baseball fans disappear. The park is silent except for the scurrying of squirrels on fallen leaves.
But that all changed in December 2021. The Kiwanis Club of Coldwater, Ohio, and hundreds of local volunteers successfully debuted the Christmas at Memorial Park event. The northeast section of the park came alive with Christmas lights, holiday characters, kids’ games, Santa and much more.
How it all began
During a Kiwanis club meeting in 2020, decorating the park for Christmas was one of the ideas shared for giving back to the community.
“Kiwanis wanted a project that would benefit locally,” says Molly Hay, a Kiwanis member who chairs the park project with Nancy Hartke.
Hartke said the idea fit the goals of school leaders, community officials and Kiwanis.
“(Kiwanis’) mission statement is to help improve the world one child and one community at a time,” Hartke says. “And that is exactly what we are trying to accomplish.”
The Coldwater Kiwanis Club wanted to create an event that promoted family time at no cost.
“Every child can leave with good memories of this fun event,” Hartke says.
Once the idea was approved and shared, donations from businesses and organizations began arriving. About US$22,000 was donated used to pay for supplies such as lights, cords and decorations and the growing list of activities.
Back-to-back weekends of fun
Thousands are expected to gather again this year for the parade that circles the park before the “Flip the Switch” lighting event. Parade entries include walkers, golf carts, tractors and other vehicles strung with Christmas lights and other decorations. Large inflatables and Santa Claus also will make an appearance.
The decorated park is open to the public the entire month.
The east entrance to the park features a 200-foot lighted tunnel guarded by life-size toy soldiers. Walking snowmen, a Grinch and other holiday characters greet visitors and pose for photos. Activities and displays include ice skating, pony rides, a game and craft tent for kids, a holiday-themed amphitheater, and hot cocoa and cookies. Organizers plan to add a few new items this year, such as a live Nativity, ice sculpting demo, carriage rides and a gingerbread house contest.
A positive experience for the community
Coldwater Mayor Doug Bertke says the event brings much-needed joy to the village.
“I believe it gives everyone a break from the stress in their lives and a chance to spend time enjoying the warmth of family and friends,” he says. “The lights, decorations and games bring the old-time holiday experience to our community, giving everyone some extra cheer in their lives.”
Coldwater Kiwanis Club President Denny Riethman says the park project delivers a great sense of pride and unity to the area.
“The event brings many community organizations and individuals together volunteering their time and talents to decorate the park and coordinate activities for kids to spread the message and spirit of Christmas,” Riethman says.
Hay says one area resident told her Christmas wasn’t his favorite holiday until last year. After experiencing the joy and seeing so many families together at the park, the holiday took on new meaning for him.
Others in the community appreciated the fact they didn’t have to drive out of the area to enjoy so much holiday entertainment, she says.
And, Hay says, one couple captured the magic of the twinkling lights by getting engaged at the amphitheater!
Volunteers are the key to success
The organizers estimate there are more than 300 volunteers involved in the project — many working behind the scenes. Besides committee members, there are students from kindergarten through high school that help with everything from decorations to the kickoff parade around the park.
Scores of people bake cookies to hand out with hot cocoa for free. Volunteers paint decorations, wear costumes, decorate trees and bags for the kids, help with children’s activities and tear down when it’s over.
“We also have volunteers from K-Kids, Builders Club, Key Club and Aktion Club,” Hay says. “It wouldn’t be possible without these wonderful volunteers.”
Hartke and Hay have a five-year plan in place to ensure Christmas at Memorial Park lives on.
“We hope it continues to grow and expands all the way through the park,” Hay says.
The event returns bigger and better this year on Dec. 2 and continues through Dec. 30.