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Let there be light

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | December 24, 2020 1:06 AM

Rathdrum brought the cheer this year, as residents put up thousands of lights and Christmas decorations in the city's Parks and Recreation "Deck the Homes" lighting contest.

Jeff Skeen, the first place People's Choice winner, said he's been hanging lights his whole life. It is a staple for him, his wife and his family every Christmas.

"I just like seeing the smile on people's faces when they drive by, stop and look at the lights and bringing Christmas cheer," Skeen said.

There are a little over 35,000 light bulbs shining on Skeen's West Timberline Street house, which took him and two friends a months-worth of weekends to set up. Featuring a giant sparkling tree, driveway arches, and multicolored strands, onlookers won't be able to miss this house. He said he even had a few neighbors help pitch in money for his electricity bill and add more lights.

"The best part was seeing people park all the way down the corner to see the lights. People would come up and tell me thank you, and it makes everything worth it," Skeen said. "After this year, COVID and everything, we needed a little light."

For his prize, Skeen will choose from a $500 reimbursement of his 2020 Christmas lights purchase or a $250 Rathdrum Trading Post Hardware gift card and $125 cash.

Bigger and better is the goal for Rathdrum's Clark W. Griswold prize winner, the Zeilstra family. Lindsay Zeilstra's husband has been decorating the house for about 14 years now, but this was their first year sprucing up their Elmberry Ave address.

"We've been accumulating decorations for 14 years, and every year we buy at least one new blowup and more lights," she said. "This year, I'd say we have probably 15 to 20 blowups and 100 to 150 strands of lights. There is a lot out there."

On the Zeilstra lawn, visitors will find two Santas in their sleighs, Olaf from Frozen, a nutcracker, and many more smiling faces. They loosened the lease a little this year, buying more decorations than usual, but it was for a good cause.

"It is been so depressing, with the news and reality, so we wanted to do something for the community and of course for the kids," Zeilstra said. "So many cars came and saw our house this year, maybe 30 or 40 cars a night."

In the spirit of Christmas movie icon Clark W. Griswold, the Zeilstras won the award for most lights and will claim a $100 Rathdrum Trading Post Hardware gift card and $125 cash.

On West Melinda Court, Rathdrum's winner of the Jingle All the Way best overall decoration award, Jeremy Fromm has lights that synchronize to six classics tunes, including "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Hallelujah," and "Mad Russian." With 32 fully-automated zones, Fromm was proud of his animated show.

"Everyone does Christmas differently. Mine involves lots of lights," he said. "I found out last minute about the contest and have been building up my show for five years, so I decided to enter."

There are about 7,000 blinking lights on Fromm's home, but he's not done. By next year he'd like to have multicolor automated lights that will change hue and tempo with next year's Christmas hits. Like the other contestants, his favorite part was contributing to the Rathdrum holiday spirit.

"Rathdrum has grown fast, so it is important we stay together and do fun things," Fromm said.

Like the Zeilstras, he will receive a $100 gift card to the Rathdrum Trading Post Hardware and a $125 cash prize.

Bringing the community together was recreation supervisor Mickael Stevens' hope when planning the "Deck the Homes" contest, he said. With added help from the event sponsors, the Rathdrum Trading Post Hardware, Avista Corporation, and Kootenai Electric Cooperative, he believes participants had an added Christmas bonus.

"We're all hearing stories about businesses shutting down, so it is nice to see others doing well, giving back to the community, sticking together, and helping each other out," Stevens said. "Truly a big thank you to them."

Originally hoping for maybe 15 participants, about 30 houses signed up for the contest, Stevens said, and over 400 residents voted for the people's choice award. He hopes by next year there will be even more contestants and lights in the Rathdrum area.

"Being able to keep somewhat normalcy in life is important," Stevens said. "That's why the parks and recreation department wants to offer things that keep a safe distance but allow people to get out of the house and have valuable family time."

Winning contestants and addresses:

  • People's Choice:
  • First place: Jeff Skeen; 6971 W Timberline Street, Rathdrum, ID, 83858
  • Second place: Will Doyle; 14450 N Cassia Street, Rathdrum, ID, 83858
  • Third place: Kevin Fisher; 7462 W Meadowlark Lane, Rathdrum, ID, 83858
  • Clark W. Griswold:
  • Lindsay Zeilstra; 6991 Elmberry Avenue, Rathdrum, ID, 83858
  • Jingle All the Way:
  • Jeremy Fromm; 7094 W Melinda Court, Rathdrum ID 83858

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The second place people's choice award winner, Will Doyle, has lights and decorations galore waiting for visitors to stop by and enjoy. Photo courtesy Rathdrum Parks and Recreation.

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Bigger and better is the name of the game for the Clark W. Griswold prize winner, the Zeilstra family. On their lawn visitors can see two Santas in their sleighs, Olaf from Frozen, and a nutcracker. Photo courtesy Rathdrum Parks and Recreation.

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On West Melinda Court, Rathdrum’s winner of the Jingle All the Way best overall decoration award, Jeremy Fromm has lights that synchronize to six holiday classics including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Hallelujah,” and “Mad Russian.” Photo courtesy Rathdrum Parks and Recreation.

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Third place people's choice award winner, the Fishers have been decorating their house for about 20 years. While proud of their 2020 lights, next year they are thinking more lights, blowups and color-coordination. Photo courtesy Rathdrum Parks and Recreation.