Before 1993, the tree limbs at Garvin Park were bare every winter, but ever since, Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights has transformed the empty landscape into a wonderland of holiday-inspired light displays. For the past 16 years, more than 200,000 visitors — from families packed in minivans to couples snuggling in horse-drawn carriages — have visited the annual event boosting the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center to see flickering and fun exhibits.
One motivating factor: Since its inception, this charitable, six-week event, which opens Thanksgiving Day and closes soon after New Year’s Day, has netted more than $2 million for Easter Seals, a rehabilitation center serving approximately 5,000 children and adults with disabilities regardless of their ability to pay. Those funds have supported an estimated 69,000 physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions.
The Light Bulb Goes Off
When Andy Guagenti, CEO of local 1950s-esque hamburger chain G.D. Ritzy’s, vacationed in 1994, he saw a light show and recognized the fundraising potential in Evansville. Guagenti, a longtime supporter of Easter Seals, shared his vision with Terry Haynie, Easter Seals’ vice president of development. They gathered volunteers for the project, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 16 (IBEW), the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), and the Teamsters Local 215.
The Lights Get Plugged In
Last year, volunteers logged more than 3,500 hours. The IBEW and the NECA set up and break down the complex light displays, student groups from the University of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana work the admissions line, and members of the Cornerstone Assembly of God sing Christmas carols. Since the event’s inception, those volunteers have consumed more than 6,000 Ritzy’s hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches donated for their time.
The Switch Is Turned On
More than 80,000 lights comprise the 61 displays showcasing 184 characters. In one scene, Santa plays basketball; in another, reindeer fly. One display depicts a boy in a wheelchair decorating a Christmas tree. “It represents what this event is all about,” says Pam Kirk, Easter Seals’ director of marketing and community relations.
To volunteer or donate, contact Easter Seals’ director of special events, Laura Roettger, 812-437-2627.
Get more information on Fantasy of Lights.