NEW PALESTINE — It was too early in the year for those lights to twinkle.
Red and green below the hot summer sun. Months before the first snowflakes would fall.
Bob Kingry would have loved it.
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As residents in Schildmeier Village hung their wreaths, strung the tinsel, they remembered Kingry, a man whose elaborate holiday displays for years had lit up their neighborhood, drawing crowds to West Village Way.
Kingry, 68, died unexpectedly last week while vacationing with his family in Utah. Over the weekend, his neighbors honored the man who embodied the Christmas spirit by hauling out their own decor and displaying it for all to see.
Kingry, a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War, moved with his surviving wife, Rebecca, to New Palestine in 1979. There, they raised two children.
Though among neighbors he was best known for his Christmas lights — stringing some 200,000 of them was his biggest passion, his family said — he enjoyed any chance to make things festive.
He lined his neighborhood entrance with Indianapolis 500 flags on Memorial Day weekend. American Flags took their place leading up to the Fourth of July. He enjoyed flowers and landscaping and fondly referred to his yard as “Kingry Park.”
As fall turned to winter, though, that’s when the crowds began to come.
For decades, families from across the state drove slowly past Kingry’s home, little faces peering eagerly from the windows up at the display that took him all year to plan.
It all went up in November — the train set, homemade ornaments, the music to accompany it all — and stayed until at least New Year’s Eve.
Kingry constantly searched the Internet for new ideas. By October, he was hauling out the decor, replacing bad bulbs and testing new products.
Though the couple has decorated the house for Christmas for more than 20 years, Kingry stepped up his game after retiring in 2011.
Laura Heacox remembers fondly that first Christmas after her family moved to the neighborhood, right behind the Kingry home, about five years ago.
Kingry came over and asked if he could put Christmas lights up in their yard. At first, Heacox thought it was an odd request, but she and her family agreed. Over the past few years, they learned to love the over-the-top display — and the man behind it.
Every year, Kingry set up an old gingerbread man and made sure it was visible to the Heacox children, who loved to see him. Though he was difficult to put together, that gingerbread man was on display year after year, Heacox said.
After hearing of her neighbor’s death, Heacox set up an inflated nativity scene and Christmas wreaths along the fence connecting their homes — a perfect way to honor his memory, she said.
“I think we know the real meaning of Christmas, but Bob taught our family to love it a little bit more,” Heacox said. “He was not just a normal neighbor, he was a huge part of our community.”
Throughout the subdivision, neighbors joined in, and together they celebrated Christmas in July, remembering the man who brought joy to children and even adults each December.
Eric and Stephanie Lines, who live down the road, set up a small white Christmas sleigh in their front yard in an effort to show the Kingry family just how much Bob meant to all of them.
Eric Lines often asked Kingry if he needed any help putting up his expansive light display as it was a joy for the Lines and their three children to see it every year, he said.
But Kingry always turned down the help, Lines said.
And so, over the weekend, the least the family could do was break out Santa’s sleigh, he said.
Over the years, Schildmeier Village became synonymous with must-see stops on any Christmas-light tour.
Becky Hilligoss, New Palestine clerk-treasurer, grew up in the area and enjoyed seeing what the Kingrys came up with every year. When her children were young, she made it a family tradition to see his lights each holiday season.
And when the Hilligoss children grew up and had kids of their own, they continued the tradition, everyone piling in the car to go and take a gander.
It was a selfless act, stringing all those lights — one that made the holidays merrier for so many, said New Palestine Town Council member Brandee Bastin, who visited each year with her family.
“It … drew lots of folks from all over,” she remembered. “He certainly went out of his way to make Christmas a little nicer for so many.”