Kenneth Whitley sees a lot of people in his job as a greeter for Wal-Mart. Every December, he sees almost as many driving by his house on Avenue B.
For 15 years now, Whitley’s modest home at the corner of Seventh Street and Avenue B has been a beacon of Christmas cheer with thousands of electrical lights and multiple holiday displays. While a lot of it is carried over from year to year, new things are added every season.
“Santa flying an airplane is new this year,” Whitley said, pointing to a collapsed balloon lying on his front yard. The airplane’s propellers are about all that a daytime visitor can discern from the colorful plastic lying there.
But Santa’s plane and the rest of the display – including perhaps 15,000 individual lights – come to life at 6 p.m. every evening, and then it all remains ready for viewing until 11 p.m. Not only do timers control the lights, they also control most of the inflatible exhibits.
Whitley’s home is on a corner, so that gives him additional street frontage to hold decorations. The lights and exhibits stretch from the neighbor’s property line on Avenue B around the corner to the other property line on Seventh Street.
Whitley concedes that there are other dazzling displays up at other local homes, but few of them will have more of their owner’s heart in them. Whitley handles all the design and placement work himself, starting just before Thanksgiving every year.
“It takes me about 10 days to get it all ready,” Whitley said. “Nobody helps me.”
Indeed, some homeowners have asked him if he could be hired to come to their homes and put up Christmas decorations for them. Right now, though, his own home is plenty of work for him to handle.
Whitley plans to keep the lights burning for two or three days after Christmas, and everything will be down by New Year’s Day.
Christmas is Whitley’s favorite time of year, and the effort and money he’s put into decorating his home reflects that.
“I care about it,” Whitley said. “I know the reason for the season. Jesus is the reason.”
The additional lighting does affect his electric bill, but Whitley said it’s worth it.
“Christmas only comes once a year,” he said, “so I don’t mind paying extra for electricity that one time.”
His reward for all that effort is the response he receives from the people he sees at work, and those who drive by on December nights.
“People come into Wal-Mart ask me when I’m going to have the lights up,” Whitley said. “Then, we do get a lot of traffic. I’ve counted as many at 150 cars in two hours, all vehicles with people looking. Some get out and walk around. The kids really do like it. That makes it all worthwhile.”
For those who might approach Whitley’s front door, a life-size Santa Claus figure will speak a holiday greeting.
Some of the sightseers are there to get some ideas on decorating their own homes, Whitley said, and he understands that. He travels around neighbors looking for decorating ideas himself.
“It’s good to see what everybody else is doing,” Whitley said. “You get some ideas as you drive by.”
Whitley has rented a 12- by 24-foot storage building to hold his decorations when they aren’t in use.
“It fills up most of that building,” he said.
Theft and vandalism have been a recurring problem, Whitley said. Part of the reason his timer deflates the yard exhibits when the lights go off is to discourage that problem.
His home won a community decorating contest earlier this decade, and he said he wishes that event could be revived because it encourages property owners to light up their homes for Christmas.
If they do start judging again, Whitley’s house could be a contender for recogition.
“I plan on doing it for a long time,” Whitley said.