Display shines bright

Sertoma member among volunteers who bring light to Minot

Jill Schramm/MDN A blue-lit river flowing under a bridge is part of the light display sponsored by Ackerman-Estvold

Sue Stewart recalls feeling somewhat overwhelmed but definitely delighted the first time she volunteered at Christmas in the Park as a new Sertoma member.

Minot’s Sertoma Club has presented the light show in Oak Park for at least 20 years, relying on volunteer labor to create, set up and operate what now is a 60- to 70-unit display. Members take turns manning the small admissions booth from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve from 6 to 10 p.m.

“The first time that I worked in the little hut, I had such a blast. Cars would come and you would see these smiling kids,” Stewart said. “They are just excited, and the families are excited. It’s that family togetherness I just love.”

She has also been impressed with people’s generosity. It’s common for a visitor to pay for a vehicle or more following behind and often those subsequent visitors keep it going. Stewart said she’s seen the process continue through 27 cars before the chain was broken.

Stewart, one of 71 Sertoma members who contribute to the Christmas project, joined the club about four years ago. That was a couple of years after moving back to Minot in 2011 from Colorado, where she had lived for about 18 years. A Minnesota native, Stewart and her husband, Steve, came to Minot, where Steve was stationed with the Air Force, and began raising their family here. They have four sons, who all live in Minot, and 10 grandchildren.

Jill Schramm/MDN A new display in Christmas in the Park this year shows a flying eagle and flag

Stewart is general manager for Souris Valley Ready Mix in Minot. She’s been with the Ready Mix company for 29 years but hasn’t always had opportunity to get involved in her community.

She made it a priority to get involved when she returned to Minot. She found Sertoma to be just what she was looking for. The organization focuses on charitable causes benefiting individuals with speech and hearing impairment, especially children, and that appealed to Stewart, who had seen the challenges related to hearing loss among members of her extended family.

Stewart has served on Sertoma’s board of directors for two years. Currently serving as secretary, she assists in the coordination of volunteers for the annual light display as well as volunteering her own time.

Souris Valley Ready Mix employees decorate a truck for the display each year. Only 10 or 15 light displays are set up by the businesses who sponsor them. In most cases, Sertoma simply receives financial sponsorships that cover maintenance and other expenses, with any overage going toward the club’s charitable causes. The work of making, maintaining and setting up the lights belongs to the club members.

In August or September, several club members will go through the items and make sure the lights are working and equipment is in good repair. The flood of 2011 damaged items that were stored at the park, requiring extra work in changing out bulbs and wires.

Jill Schramm/MDN Sue Stewart, general manager for Souris Valley Ready Mix, supports Christmas in the Park with her company’s lighted truck.

“We just had a really huge transition because it was just the little Christmas bulbs that were on the displays. Over the last two years we have switched them over to the LED lights, which are more energy efficient,” Stewart said. “It’s much brighter and crisper. The lights are really pronounced this year. We really noticed a big difference.”

Club members are able to set up the display on two Saturdays in November, with help from a couple of members who put in extra time during the week.

It’s not unusual for Sertoma members to enlist employees, family and friends in pulling together the Christmas in the Park. Stewart gives kudos to Dakota Fence employees who volunteer to install the posts for attaching the displays each year. Stewart also has engaged Ready Mix employees in helping with any welding that needs to be done. Other businesses have been just as generous, she said.

“People in the community just really pitch in and help out. I have never heard a ‘no,'” Stewart said. “I can’t give enough credit to the park district for allowing us to be there.”

The long-time display had begun with about 25 items, including six lighted items purchased by the club. The club had encouraged businesses and organizations to add their own displays but discovered it was difficult for businesses to find time to create quality displays. So about five years into the event, the club collaborated with Burdick Job Corps to have the welding classes build the displays with materials provided by the club. Sertoma members then would string wire and put in bulbs. Eventually, the club went to sponsorships for the displays.

Jill Schramm/MDN Sue Stewart stands next to the Sertoma hut, manned on Dec. 13 by 49-year Sertoma member Dale Mattern and his wife, Kay, at the entrance to the Oak Park lighted display

Originally, Minot Sertoma charged an entrance fee to individual visitors but discovered it’s easier to charge by the vehicle. It now charges $5 a car and $20 a bus. Walkers are free.

Proceeds go to support a number of causes championed by the club. Since its inception in 1959, the club has supported Minot Park District, YMCA, Pathfinders, Boy Scouts, Boys’ State and Girls’ State and various charities.

A contribution to the Minot Recreation Commission led to the construction of the Keith White Sertoma Sports Complex near the airport. A contribution provided for the induction loops to assist the hearing impaired at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall and the amphitheater at Minot State University. The club also has an endowment at the MSU Foundation that provides scholarships to students pursuing careers in speech and hearing. It has purchased sound systems and hearing equipment for local classrooms.

The club has two major fundraisers in its Beer Fest and Christmas in the Park, with the Christmas display generating a large share of the club’s income.

Stewart said the park event typically raises around $40,000 that the club can put toward charitable uses. She estimated about 5,400 vehicles had taken the tour by the season’s halfway mark this year.

Stewart drives through the park to check on the display various times during the season, paying the $5 to support the cause and often bringing family along to enjoy the sights.

“I don’t think it will ever get old – just seeing the number of vehicles that come through,” Stewart said. “I think we will probably get a little bit bigger. There’s more room in the park.”

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)