Holiday Fantasy in Lights Setup at Olin Park
Thousands of lights, hundreds of displays, 40 apprentices, dozens of retirees, 8 truckloads of displays and months of preparation all lead up to a flip of the switch on November 18 for the Grand Opening of the 2017 Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison’s Olin Park.
The skills, expertise and time of IBEW Local 159 members make this annual holiday event possible. The preparation begins months in advance when Local 159 retirees solder and weld lights onto custom-built displays framed by a local ironworker.
“Thousands and thousands of zip tie wraps later, we have biking Santas,” explained John Zwettler, an IBEW Local 159 retiree who has volunteered to put together holiday-themed light displays at IBEW Local 159 headquarters in Madison along with a dedicated group of retired IBEW members for the last 4 years.
Jim Virnig, IBEW Local 159 retiree, is going on his 25th year of bringing holiday magic to life. He started volunteering on the Fantasy in Lights light display when he was an apprentice with the IBEW and the holiday light display was in its beginning days at Warner Park.
Mike Grassy, IBEW Business Manager, stated that it is a great way to connect the community to the IBEW Local 159. “This gives the community a place to celebrate the holidays and know that the IBEW is deeply engrained in the community. When kids come through they know the IBEW is part and parcel of the community bringing light, careers and holiday cheer to Madison.”
“This is my favorite time of the year,” explained Virnig as he held up a tower post that would become a tunnel of lights. “All the hours and the lightbulb sorting are worth it when you see the faces on the kids light up when the lights go on. This is a gift we are proud to give to the community,” continued Virnig. “It’s a way to pass the Christmas spirit on from union people who work for a living. A way to pass skills and knowledge of electrical work onto the next generation of apprentices and do something positive for the community to enjoy.”
Second year IBEW Local 159 apprentices were on hand for two days of stake-pounding, wire-tightening and laboring that goes into erecting over 80 holiday light displays. From the Forward Lady Capitol Statue and the Wisconsin State Capitol, to Puff the Magic Dragon, Christmas carolers and Frosty the Snowman – the Holiday Fantasy in Light display has all the favorites.
Nicolas Tarbet of Beaver Dam, IBEW 159 Apprentice, was hammering stakes into the ground to secure a reindeer into place as he explained, “It’s a different day on the job for sure with energetic interaction with union brothers and sisters in the local. It’s cool to be a part of something that will bring joy and happiness to people.”
Lauren Andrews, also a 2nd year IBEW Local Apprentice, is thankful to have found a lifetime career path in the union trades and is on her way to becoming a journeyman electrician. “I’ve always liked to work with my hands and be outside,” explained Andrews. At 25 Lauren has held a wide-range of jobs including a blacksmith and a furrier in Minnesota and Montana.
Kevin Buntrock, IBEW Assistant Business Manager, who took the lead on organizing the manpower and labor for the project counts these days as some of the “most fun and coolest days on the job. It brings generations of IBEW members together. It is an indescribable feeling when the lights switch on knowing that it is the skills and know-how of the IBEW 159 that helped make this happen. Cars from all over the country come through here. Families celebrating together. It’s what makes the season great.”
Buntrock suggests catching the Holiday Fantasy in Lights display just after a fresh snowfall for the most magical experience.
The annual event is celebrating its 29th year. Over 50,000 spectators are anticipated to view the Holiday Fantasy in Light display with all voluntary donations going to local charities.
The 2017 Holiday Fantasy in Lights run Saturday, November 18, 2017 to Tuesday January 2, 2018. The lights go on each evening at 4 pm through January 2nd at Olin Park. Free Admission. It is sponsored by the Electric Group. Additional sponsors can be found here.