Holiday lights contest showcases central Columbia's creativity

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | 11:55 p.m. CST
Artist turned engineer Bob Emery spent more than 40 years designing and installing the decorations that adorn 1701 Stirling Ct. Emery passed away almost two years ago, so now his friends install the decorations for his wife, Sharon, who stands out front accepting donations for Habitat for Humanity.

COLUMBIA — Steve Thornton’s house at 303 Rogers St. was embellished with sparkling lights, reindeer and Santa and Mrs. Claus in their sleigh this holiday season.

“I have people stopping by every night and taking pictures,” he said.


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Thornton, 59, won first place in his area for the 11th year in a row in the Central Columbia Annual Holiday Lights Contest on Tuesday night. He proudly hangs his framed first-place placards on the wall above his Christmas tree and added another to his collection this year.

The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department sponsors the annual contest to encourage residents to light up the city with holiday spirit. 

Bill Thompson, the department's recreation specialist, hosted the event and said the goal of the contest is to encourage people to decorate and feel good about the holiday.

“It helps make everyone feel better when they drive by your house and see the beautiful lights,” Thompson said to the crowd of more than 60 residents. 

The contest focuses on the region between MU and Columbia College, including North College Avenue, Ash Street, West Boulevard and downtown.

The region is divided into eight areas, with first-, second- and third-place prizes awarded for the best decorated houses in each one. Columbia residents form the judging panel, which considers criteria such as taste, creativity, uniqueness and the decorations’ “wow factor."

Camren Cross, a recreation supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Department, said there are 10 houses on average in each section judged. Cross was assigned to judge Section 7 this year.

“303 was the most extravagant,” he said, referring to Thornton’s house.

Decorating houses is a longstanding pastime for Thornton.

“When I was in school, I was into art," he said. "Christmastime is the time to decorate. I just love the Christmas spirit.”

Thornton also decorates other houses every year with his brother Michael Thornton, 60. He said he doesn’t charge much to decorate — Thornton gives residents a list of lights to buy and then asks for $20 or $30 to put them up, often helped by the residents themselves. Thornton said he's proud of the work he does and loves every second of it.

Gaynel Bradford, 44, won first place in her neighborhood for her decorated Providence Walkway home. She put up her Christmas lights for her 4-year-old son, Maleek Farr, but he wasn't quite as focused on the contest at hand.

“I was thinking about my presents,” Maleek said.

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Patrick Kennedy December 22, 2010 | 11:07 a.m.

Beautifully written! Great job!

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