Adam's tree: Founder of Willmar holiday light display creates special structure for teenage fan he befriended
WILLMAR — Adam Froehlich is on the edge of his seat in his mom's car, nose pressed against the window on the right before he quickly leans over to the window on the left to get a look at all the colorful, dancing lights in the Celebrate the Light of the World display at Robbins Island.
His excitement for seeing the reindeers light up with synchronized music and the red, green, blue and yellow lights twirl around numerous trees is palpable.
His face is pure joy as he watches the lights while his mom, Carmen Froehlich, slowly drives through the loop or pulls off to the side so Adam can get a good long look at a certain set of trees for a good long time.
It's the face of someone seeing something spectacular for the very first time.
But Adam has seen this display many times.
Too many times to count, said Carmen Froehlich.
It's only Wednesday and they had already been to the Willmar park at least twice this week — staying until the display closed at 10 p.m. — and then making the 24-mile drive back home to rural Kerkhoven.
"He just loves the Christmas lights," Froehlich said. "He loves the lights and the music."
And then — every night, all year around — Adam watches the previous year's Celebrate the Light of the World video on his computer.
"He knows every single light bulb, when it goes on and when it goes off," she said.
For Adam, who is 15 years old and has autism, this Christmas light display is a big part of his life.
So is the man who created it, Chad Koosman.
"They just connected," Froehlich said. "They've built a good relationship."
Adam met Koosman several years ago after spending untold hours every year parked in a car with his family in Koosman's yard watching the light show.
"Sometimes we'd be there 5-6 nights a week and we'd sit out there for 3-4 hours, because that is his joy," Froehlich said.
For 10 years Koosman built and hosted the massive light display in his yard and raised thousands of dollars for the Salvation Army every year. But Koosman gave the lights to the Willmar Fests organization and this year the display was moved to Robbins Island.
Because Koosman and Adam had struck up a strong friendship, Koosman said he was concerned how Adam would feel about the new location for the lights.
To ease that transition, Koosman had a special, 50-foot-tall tree made just for Adam.
It features the team colors of Adam's beloved Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg School, where he plays drums in the band, and the display includes one of his favorite songs, "The Little Drummer Boy" that plays along with a video of a brown-haired drummer boy.
"Adam says, 'Mom, that's me,'" said Froehlich, while watching the video and lights from her car while Adam and Koosman walked around the tree. "Everytime it plays I cry. It's so amazing."
Koosman said one of the unexpected surprises for him and his wife, Angie, was hearing how the light show affected so many people who came to watch it at their home.
"We never knew the lights would impact people the way that they did and it definitely impacted Adam's life," Koosman said.
"Letting them go, we didn't want to make you sad," Koosman said to Adam. "So that's why we designed your special tree."
When Koosman showed Adam the completed tree for the first time, "he got out of the car and said, 'Koosman, I love my tree!'" Froehlich said. "And I'm bawling, and he says, 'Mom, you cry happy tears?'"
"I mean, who does this for somebody else?" she said. "I don't even have enough words to explain how grateful I am to Chad and his family and the people who've done this," said Froehlich, giving a nod to other key players, John Schmidt and Scott Kubesh.
Before the light show closes for good on Jan. 6, Froehlich said they will be making many more trips to the park.
She never gets tired of it.
"No. Never, never, never," she said. "If I could be out here every night from 5 to 10 with him, I would be. I would be. For my boy, I would be. Because it brings him so much joy."
Froehlich said the lights, the music and the special friendship Koosman has given her son create a powerful message.
"It really brings you back to what Christmas is about," she said. "It really makes you think about what's important."