Rotary’s Fantasy Lights raised $21,000 last year and raised the spirits of new club president Bill Butler and his family.
If you walk through Town Center during the fifth-annual Fantasy Lights, sponsored by the Flagler County Rotary Club, you’ll see light displays as tall as 18 feet and as wide as 40.
“It’s an experience walking around that path,” said Bill Butler, who has been elected as the club’s president for 2011. “It used to be a drive-through thing in the Indian Trails Sports Complex. Now with Central Park, it’s more of a social thing. You greet people at night, and you see the smiles on their faces.”
Butler likes to ask people which was their favorite out of the 33 displays.
One favorite is the display of Santa Claus in a helicopter, with lights that make it look like the blades are spinning. Another is an animated scene of teddy bears having a snowball fight.
One year, Butler asked a boy what his favorite display was, and he said it was the small display of an angel tossing a star in the air.
“It just made me cry,” Butler recalled. That display wasn’t the most impressive, and it’s rarely mentioned as the favorite, but without the story behind the angel, the Fantasy Lights may never have come to Palm Coast.
‘Dad, you gotta do this’
In 1997, the family left Palm Coast to visit their hometown of Evansville, Ind. While there, they visited a drive-through lights show in a park.
“I had my video camera, and they were playing holiday music,” Butler recalled. “The kids were so excited about it. Tiffany, who was 9 at the time, said, ‘Dad, you gotta do this in Palm Coast!’”
Butler explained they were expensive, and it would take a lot of effort. When they returned, Tiffany settled for having her dad put extra lights on their home. End of story — or so he thought.
But Tiffany’s situation was unique.
“She was born with some medical issues, and she had been fighting with that all her life,” Butler said. “She lost her battle with that and went on to heaven.”
Tiffany died when she was 14, in 2002. Two years later, Butler joined Rotary. At one of the meetings, the club members were brainstorming about their next fundraiser.
“It just came to mind: Tiffany, now’s your time,” Butler said. He offered the idea of a lights display and met some initial opposition.
It seemed unrealistic that people would buy these displays, some of which cost $10,000 or $20,000, when it had never been done in town.
But, he got the approval and started selling.
“The first day I went out to sell displays in 2005, I sold four, and each one was about $10,000,” Butler said. “It was on her birthday (Sept. 13). I started telling people about it, and it was like, ‘You had me at hello.’ People wrote me a check, and we were off and running. The first year, we had about 18 displays.”
‘It’s our memorial to her’
Every year, a few more displays have been purchased. Last year, the club raised $21,000, which contributes to Rotary’s missions of eradicating polio around the world, and contributing locally to scholarships.
Butler said it’s a good value for advertising because the lights are up for the whole month of December, and thousands of people walk by.
While some companies by displays for advertising, other displays are for a cause. One new display honors three local Rotarians who have died: Emile Mazzawi, Sam Newton and Ray Nichol.
The Butler family’s display is for Tiffany.
“It’s our memorial to her,” said Butler’s wife, Libbie.
Tiffany loved to help other children, and Butler said, “In this way, she is helping kids. We’re helping eradicate polio and saving children’s lives.”
“We are her hands and feet now,” Libbie said.
Lighting up for Christmas
Fantasy Lights has grown little by little every year. There are six more displays this year than there were last year.
“For you to be successful in anything, you have got to have someone who has a passion for it, and I guess I’m that one for Rotary,” Butler said. “It’s not a one-man show, either. It’s a lot of work to put this on, and we have a committee every year that volunteers.”
Butler appreciates the good it does for the community. But it’s clear it does him good, too.
“It gives us peace,” he said. “Christmas was—” he began again, then stopped. He said that, after Tiffany died, he never put up lights on the house at Christmas time. It was three months after her birthday, but even then, it was too sorrowful.
Now, he still doesn’t put up lights. But it’s not out of grief anymore.
“We still don’t,” he said. “But only because we’re putting lights up at the show.”
ROTARY IN FLAGLER
The Flagler County Rotary Club was founded in 1981 and now has 70 members. The mission of the club is to eradicate polio from the world, and thanks to the help of Rotary International and donations from the Gates Foundation, the goal is nearly accomplished.
Locally, the Rotary Club sponsors scholarships for student-athletes and also support the Make It, Take It program, which enables community members to build and keep refurbished computers.
The companies and organizations that purchase light displays for the Rotary Club’s Fantasy Lights — some for as much as $20,000 — donate the displays back to the club, and then pay a maintenance fee every year after that.
Last year, Rotary raised $21,000 by charging admission. This year, it’s free, but the club is hoping community members still contribute.
The lights are on from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each night in December, other than Dec. 31, at Central Park in Town Center.
IF YOU GO
What: Fantasy Lights
When: 6:30 to 9 p.m., from now through Dec. 30
Where: Central Park, Town Center
Cost: Free, but offerings are accepted