Holiday lights go high-tech

Displays use computers to synchronize lights, music

By Sam Shriver,

Holiday lights display at Allen East.

Holiday lights display at Allen East.

The Hefners' display in Wapakoneta.

The Hefners' display in Wapakoneta.

The Clays’ holiday display in Ottoville.

Sam Shriver | The Lima News

LIMA — Many people have started to decorate their homes for the holidays. Some are using technology to make their displays truly magical.

Tony and Vicki Hefner, 1613 Springfield Avenue, Wapakoneta, decorate their yard using Light-O-Rama.

“We have a computer-controlled light display that we’ve been doing now for about, this is probably the 10th year for it. Basically what started it, we were out in the country for many years and we moved into the Lincoln Park subdivision and noticed that nobody did anything out here and so we thought well, you know, why not try to do something and so we kind of started this thing and it just kind of kept snowballing and next thing you know have basically 145 channels that run different controlled lights by the computer,” Tony Hefner said.

“Basically the way the lights work is we have a computer that has controls that go out into these little boxes in different places in the yard and those boxes tell the lights when to come on to the music. We have a little FM transmitter that if you’re sitting out in your car and you’re watching it, you can hear the music on your car radio,” Hefner added.

“Once we started it, several of the neighbors started putting up lights and we ended up having our own little Christmas decorating contest. We always got the best in lights but there’s a woman right down the street from us, she’s got a beautiful display, it’s all white and it’s all static, but she does it and the next thing you know, we got a lot of houses out here now that put lights up,” he continued.

“The more we started putting in, the more people started to come out. You start to do more and more with it and then it got kind of difficult to keep putting it up,” he continued.

“About five years ago, I had a stroke and that didn’t help matters and it got to the point where last year we thought, well, maybe this will be the last year and so I told a few people and the Taylors [Joe and Kara] is one of them and next thing we know, the week after Christmas all these people just showed up and they were afraid we weren’t going to do it anymore and they started giving us all kinds of donations,” Hefner continued.

That effort was called Keep the Lights On, which was organized by the Taylors.

“We don’t like to do it and expect anybody to give us anything any money or anything for it, it’s just because we enjoy doing it,” Hefner said.

Clay Christmas Extravaganza in Ottoville

In Putnam County there’s another elaborate display that uses the Light-O-Rama setup.

You’ll definitely want to check out the “Clay Christmas Extravaganza” at 110 Red Maple Court in Ottoville.

The Clays have been putting up their Christmas display for the past six years.

“I purchased one of those little Mr. Christmas things from Menards one year after Christmas that make the lights dance and it didn’t work and went through like four of them, didn’t work. My husband had seen all these elaborate computerized designs online and was like, well, ‘If you want a Christmas display, we’ll do a Christmas display,’ and he Googled what everybody was doing and got into forums and stuff like that and that started it,” Lisa Clay said.

The Clays, like the Hefners, found Light-O-Rama to be just what they needed.

“My husband seems to like it, although it takes probably about eight to 10 hours to program one song. People will sell preprogrammed songs but he prefers to do it himself. He does it because the children love it,” she said.

They have more than a dozen songs that synchronize with the lights.

“We have a ‘Frozen’ remix for the kids and then we have some Frank Sinatra. We kind of do a mix of music for all ages,” she said.

Lisa Clay looks forward to this time of the year.

“I love Christmas. I love it, love it, love it. Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s giving, it absolutely is the most wonderful time of the year and this display, my husband and I do it. It’s a lot of work, but to see little kids smiling and we have had some of the nursing homes have brought buses over of people and we get messages on Facebook talking about how people look forward to it every year. I remember when I was little. Where I grew up there were people that, they did a big light display, it wasn’t animated or anything, but you know they had tons of Christmas lights and stuff like that and that was a big deal. Every year we went there and seen that and I think it is just cool and people really look forward to it and what we do. We put out a donation box and we collect donations and then we pick a charity or an individual to donate the money to,” she said.

In the past they have helped out Meals Til Monday in Lima.

“One year, a friend of mine on Facebook had posted about someone she knew in Kalida, a husband and wife that were both within a couple of weeks, diagnosed with cancer and so we donated that year’s to them,” she added.

No decision has been made on who they’ll donate to this year.

“Things kind of come up and tell us where we need to donate it. We never really know. Something will kind of pop up like, hey, this is where it needs to go to this year,” she said.

Lighting up Allen East High School

John Freed, a technology integration specialist at Allen East High School, has displays up at his parents’ home, at his home, and at the school.

He uses computer controllers to synchronize the lights to music and uses an FM transmitter [at 103.5 FM] to broadcast the music so people can stay in their vehicles at Allen East.

“Six years ago I started using Light-O-Rama to do the lights and music together. Last year I started doing my animated lights over at Allen East High School,” Freed said.

“Light-O-Rama has a sequence editor that allows you to edit the songs and kind of tell it what to do and then there’s the hardware controllers that go outside to control everything,” he said.

“I really like the ability to do it at school. Out there at Allen East, I use the blue and the white lights and a lot of it is that school spirit type of stuff. Not a lot of schools have lights and things like we do,” he said.

He’s using the help of students with the display at the school.

“I’ve actually got three kids that have been working on kind of playing around with some of the software and helping build some of the controllers,” he said.

“I really enjoy doing stuff with computers. I also like the musical aspect of it so it kind of combines two of my big loves,” he said.

Holiday lights display at Allen East. lights display at Allen East.
The Hefners' display in Wapakoneta. Hefners' display in Wapakoneta.
The Clays’ holiday display in Ottoville. Clays’ holiday display in Ottoville. Sam Shriver | The Lima News
Displays use computers to synchronize lights, music

By Sam Shriver,

Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.

Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.

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