Christmas Tree Lane 2012 Leesburg Florida


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Sparkling lights and colorful displays on Christmas Tree Lane — a cherished tradition since 1958 — has drawn more than 7,000 packed cars each holiday season through the small Lakeshore Mobile Home Park neighborhood, where families delight in seeing the decorations and waving to Santa and Mrs. Claus.

But after nearly six decades, the tradition was going to be cancelled this year dues to high operatings costs, and aging residents finding it harder and harder to set up the heavy holiday displays and animated shadowboxes.  “The bulk of us wanted to do it, but we just didn’t have the muscle,” said Larry Kelley, 80, a park resident of 11 years.  Leesburg City Commissioner-elect Trueman “Jay” Hurley heard about the problem and decided to step in.

“This is just a community thing that I didn’t want to see go away,” he said.  He met with the residents, including Carolyn Merrell, who wanted to save the tradition of Christmas Tree Lane. Hurley also heard that Lakeshore Mobile Home Park’s new management didn’t want to pay the $1,000 needed to operate the holiday display.  When management officials agreed to contribute $350, Hurley found individuals and community leaders willing to pony up the rest.

“The residents here are wonderful,” Hurley said, noting many of the park’s residents really wanted to continue Christmas Tree Lane, but they were worried about being able to do the heavy labor.  “They said, ‘We’re getting a little older and we can’t do the lifting and the toting.'”
All of the park’s holiday decorations have been stored off site and needed to be hauled in by trailers. Hurley shared the plight of the park’s residents with city officials and also made phone calls to firefighters and business leaders. He also posted a request on Facebook for volunteers.
“The firemen wanted to do it and they jumped on with us,” said Hurley, who was thrilled on Sunday to see 50-plus business owners, city officials, and area residents willing to help save Christmas Tree Lane.

“How could it not feel good to save Christmas Tree Lane,” Hurley said. “The holidays are just wonderful and it’s about giving. When you can join with strangers and people you don’t even know in the spirit of community and in the spirit of Christmas, I just think it’s phenomenal.”
Leesburg Fire Department EMT Nate Barlow was among a dozen firefighters assembling the shadowbox for the nativity scene.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and I remember coming here as just a really little kid, so we couldn’t allow this old tradition of Christmas Tree Lane go to the wayside,” Barlow said. “Absolutely, we wanted to come out and help. We’re just so happy to give back to the community that we love.”
Business owner Clay Bell said he was inspired to help in order for his young sons, Cole, 3 and Dylan, 1 1/2 to be able to experience Christmas Tree Lane.

“I’m a lifelong resident of Leesburg and I was more than happy to help,” Bell said. “I remember coming here as a kid. It was a tradition every year that my family would bring us here. It’s a big thing, and now that I have children, I wanted to be able to bring them here to see everything.”
Leesburg City Manager Jay Evans climbed the ladder get on top of Santa’s Workshop display to drill the “Merry Christmas” sign.
“This mobile home park has given to the community for so many years, and now we’re giving back to them and helping put this together,” said Evans, who was touched to meet volunteers who came from outside of Leesburg to provide labor.
“I wanted to come out to help and keep it going,” said Shirley Chavis of Weirsdale, who read about the need for volunteers on Facebook. “I brought my children here when they were just learning to walk and crawl, and now I bring my grandchildren here.”
Toni Gardner is thrilled her children, ages 11, 8 and 5, will be able to enjoy Christmas Tree Lane this year at the mobile home park where their grandfather lives.

“They sit on Grandpop’s screen porch and they wave and say ‘Merry Christmas’ to everybody who drives by,” Gardner said.
The holiday displays will be lit up in splendor glory for the first time at 6 p.m. Dec. 11 and run nightly from 6-9 p.m. through Dec. 27. On many nights, Santa is expected to be seen in front of the recreation hall handing out candy canes to passers-by driving through.  Christmas Tree Lane made its debut in December 1958. According to the park’s history, it was the inspiration and efforts of the then park managers, Ralph and Elaine Whitaker with the permission of the original owners Beverly and Dora Lee Grizzard.

Charlie Stahl, a park resident, is pleased to see Christmas Tree Lane lives on for another holiday season.
“It is just unbelievable the outpouring of help,” Stahl said. “Now we have help from all over.”
“If it hadn’t been for them, it wouldn’t have happened,” added Wayne Grimes, who expressed gratitude to the volunteers who turned out to help assemble the heaviest displays.  Grimes is optimistic that Christmas Tree Lane will continue for generations to come, along long as their is community support for the holiday tradition.

“If we have the help, it will keep going,” he said.  Christmas Tree Lane  Residents will be able to drive through Christmas Tree Lane at Lakeshore Mobile Home Park from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 11-27. The park is located 1208 N. Lee St., Leesburg.

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