NEW PALESTINE — It just wouldn’t be Christmas without lights shining in Schildmeier Village.
Bob Kingry’s family knew that. Since 2011 — and maybe even before — the little house on West Village Way became a holiday destination for families looking to make holiday memories in a sea of 200,000 lights.
Kingry, who died last summer, spent months planning his annual Christmas display that drew hundreds to the New Palestine neighborhood.
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Now, as his family members prepare for their first holiday season without him, they’ve found a special way to honor Kingry’s memory while keeping the Christmas spirit he loved so much alive in his neighborhood.
Some favorite pieces — the twinkling lights that adorn the home’s roof, a few reindeer and Kingry’s beloved choo-choo train — decorate the lawn. And a new lighted memorial honors the man whose holiday cheer thrilled so many, daughter Jennifer Zacharias said.
But the rest of the display has gone to a worthy cause, his family members said. They donated thousands of lights and decorations to a community light show in Union City, nearly 90 minutes east of New Palestine, that raises money for charity. There, an old friend of Kingry’s — a man who shares his love of holiday lights, who forged a bond with him over their mutual passion — fills a more than 60-acre park in the little Indiana town with lights each year.
In Union City, the bits of Kingry’s colorful display will bring joy to hundreds more for years of Christmases to come, all while bringing in dollars to support those in need.
It’ll keep his memory alive, his loved ones said. Preserve a legacy of making dark, cold winter nights a little brighter.
Every November, that display went up — the train set, homemade ornaments, the music to accompany the blinking lights — and stayed until at least New Year’s Eve.
As fall turned to winter, that’s when the crowds began to come.
Though this year’s display is much smaller than in years past, hauling out his decorations brought his family some joy this Christmas and continued a tradition beloved by so many.
And the memorial serves as a reminder of the man behind the show.
“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright … sleep in heavenly peace,” the memorial reads.
“It certainly is difficult, but we’re happy to celebrate him,” Zacharias said.
The rest of Kingry’s lights are now in the capable hands of his old friend, Larry Amspaugh, who puts up about 4.5 million Christmas lights in Union City’s Harter Park.
Amspaugh calls the show “A Community Christmas,” and it started 12 years ago when he went door to door asking his neighbors to each donate a single strand of Christmas lights so he could decorate the local park.
Now, the display and more than 4 million bulbs cover the park, stretching for miles. The display draws hundreds of cars daily, little faces peering out of the windows, and organizers seek donations for a different community group or nonprofit each night.
Amspaugh’s friendship with the New Palestine family sprouted out of one shared by their sons, he said.
Kingry’s son, John, and Amspaugh’s son, AJ, met in college and bonded over their fathers’ mutual love for Christmas lights.
From then on, at football game tailgates and graduations, the dads forged a bond, too, swapping tips and stories and even supplies as Christmastime neared.
“I’m the Clark Griswold of Union City, just like he was the Clark Griswold of New Palestine,” Amspaugh said with a laugh. “It was funny to a point at first, but we bonded. We shared that passion.”
It meant a lot that the Kingrys thought of them when divvying up the lights, Amspaugh said, and it’s an honor to have a role in keeping Kingry’s light display alive.
Kingry’s family wanted the lights to go to a place where there would always be an audience to enjoy them as much as he did, his daughter said. Where they can keep bringing people holiday joy.
“It brings us some peace,” Zacharias said.