Holiday lights to brighten up Willmar's Robbins Island for a fifth year
Celebrate the Light of the World, the holiday light display started by Chad Koosman more than 15 years ago, will be celebrating its fifth year at Robbins Island in Willmar. The display begins Thanksgiving and runs through New Year's Eve.
Editor's note: Story updated to correct the spelling of Kelsey Hedlof's name.
WILLMAR — Robbins Island Regional Park will be turned into a holiday wonderland yet again this year with the annual Celebrate the Light of the World light display at the park. The lights will begin to gleam every night between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
"It is wonderful that it is still in the community," said Kelsey Hedlof, board member of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce neXt group. "It is such a great community attraction to have."
More than 800,000 lights in the shape of trees, trains, snowflakes and so much more transform the 23-acre park into a sparkling attraction for a fifth year. Visitors will be able to drive through the park, using the old road, to enjoy the lights spectacle.
The light display is free, and donations will be collected for four local charities — Kandiyohi County Food Shelf, Salvation Army, United Way of West Central Minnesota and Habitat for Humanity.
"It kind of brings the community together and it helps numerous nonprofits," said Andy Engan of Engan and Associates.
The story of Celebrate the Light of the World dates back to 2008, when Chad Koosman began decorating his seven-acre property outside of Willmar. The display grew over the years, even obtaining national status when ABC's "Great American Light Fight" television show came to town to include the Koosman display on air.
Over the decade the Koosmans ran the display, approximately $810,000 was raised for the Salvation Army.
In 2017, the Koosmans decided to give the entire light display to Willmar Fests. Following the 2017-2018 show, every piece of the display was packed up and given over to the nonprofit community organization. That following holiday season, Robbins Island was lit up for the first time.
"It has been increasing every year," said Jon Schmidt, Willmar Fests board member.
Setup for the display begins in early fall as hundreds of thousands of lights, miles of extension cords and different display pieces are taken out of storage and brought to the park.
"Pretty much as soon as October hits," setup begins, said David Meyer, neXt board member and a member of the board for the light display.
That's when the call for volunteers goes out as well. It takes quite a lot of help to put up the display that covers a vast piece of the park.
On a cold and rainy Oct. 27, volunteers from neXt, Engan and Associates and Advocacy & Inclusion Matter (AIM) were on hand to help put up light trees and decorate the Destination Playground with wreaths and lights.
"Our People First group always wants to volunteer and get out," said VaLoris Anderson, executive director of AIM.
Engan and Associates has been involved with the light display since it moved out to Robbins Island. This year, Engan and Associates and AIM, which are located in the same building, decided to team up and help out.
"It is great for our community," Engan said. "It is an attraction for our community."
For the neXt group, volunteering to help set up lights is both a way to give back to the community and grow the new business and community leaders, both of which are missions of the group.
"If young professionals are involved in the community, it will help keep them in the community," Meyer said.
It is also just cool to be able to say to family that you helped set up the holiday lights at Robbins Island.
"I have two young boys who love coming through all of this; it is a highlight for them," Hedlof said, and they'll probably enjoy the idea that mom had a hand in it.
Every year, the group that runs the light display tries to put a new spin on it, to keep it fresh and interesting for visitors. This year, there will be a couple of new photo opportunities near the four-season shelter, and the metal poles for the shade structures at the playground will be wrapped in lights.
"It evolves every year, which is wonderful too," Hedlof said. "It is never the same."
In keeping with the Koosman tradition of raising money for charity during the weeks of the display, donations are collected for four local charities. Every single dollar raised goes to those charities. Last year, approximately $68,000 was raised and it was split evenly between the four charities.
"We want to be impactful; we want to make a difference," Schmidt said.
This year's Celebrate the Light of the World display will start at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Weather-permitting, the display will be lit from 5 to 10 p.m. every day between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.