While growing up in Iowa, my family competed in the neighborhood Christmas decoration contests. My dad, Cliff Bearden, was the mastermind of the lights, and we were often crowned neighborhood champions. Decorating the house for Christmas became a family tradition that my dad didn’t realize he was creating at the time.
In 2002, I found out that my daughter was to be born sometime around Christmas. I wanted her first Christmas to be special so my wife and I began making plans to decorate our house. I called on my dad for help and advice being as he had masterminded so many award winning displays in the past. I didn’t want this to be just your normal display, I wanted this to be something special!
My wife came up with the idea of creating the entire Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer characters. I was very skeptical at first because I didn’t think we could paint them to look enough like the original characters. Little did I know, my wife had an extraordinary artistic talent. Each character she painted came to life.
While she worked on the characters, my dad and I concentrated on the lights. What an awesome feeling it was working on the display with my dad. It was as if he was passing on the old family tradition torch to me so that I could carry it on with my family. Being as our house is a cedar color, we decided to make it look like a ginger bread house. We built candy cane boxing to outline the house that could be easily removed after Christmas. We covered entire roof in white net lights and made different colored gum drops out of the bushes. We outlined every window, door and shudder in lights. To make the house a true Winter Wonderland without the help of Mother Nature, we purchased two synthetic snow machines and mounted them on top of the house.
Things did not go as smoothly as we wished. Strong winds on two separate occasions blew the lights off the house. When we turned on the lights for a test run, we blew out the transformer on the light pole. All the lights immediately went out. It was just like the scene from the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation”. We were truly like the Griswold’s! As we all stood there in disbelief, my dad put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m proud of you son”. We called the electric company and they came out and put up a bigger transformer for us.
On December 1st, 2002, we turned on the lights for all to see. On December 30th 2002, God Blessed us with a healthy baby girl who we named Autumn. The following Christmas, we decided to put the display back up. With the amount of traffic the display generated the previous year, my wife and I decided to create a Non Profit Organization calling it “Autumn’s Loving Hand” and put a donation box up to help raise money for children in need. Year after year the Christmas display has become bigger and better. The display now expands across 8 acres of land covered by millions of lights and your favorite Christmas characters. Every year we hold an annual “Turning on the Lights” celebration on the first Saturday of December which is open free to the public. Food is available by different vendors each year. Santa Claus makes an appearance from 6:00 to 8:00PM to meet and visit with all the children and their families. We have live music that starts around 7:00pm and then at 8PM the party really gets going with a spectacular professional fireworks display by S&W Productions out of Wake Forest NC. This is a show second to none!
My wife and I are so grateful to have been Blessed with two healthy children, daughter Autumn and older son Dillon. We continue to offer this lighted Christmas display free to the general public nightly from December 1 to Jan 1, with all donations going to pre-designated children in need. We don’t charge people to see our lights because Christmas is about caring and sharing and we don’t want anybody to be left out. We realize that it’s hard on people this year with the economy the way that it is, but we hope people will still find it in their hearts to donate and help a child in need. We are very grateful to our sponsors who help fund the yearly maintenance and cost of the display. Without them we would not be able to continue doing this. The lights will be on Sunday –Thursday 6-10PM and Friday and Saturday from 6-midnight.
Thanks and God Bless!