Doug Schultz lights up to collect donations for local food shelf
To say that the holiday lights display at 1526 York Ave. is exuberant is most certainly an understatement.
It’s got 40,000 lights, fills up the front yards of six homes, and is synced up to a rotating queue of 36 Christmas songs with the help of computer light sequencing software.
Folks can drive up, tune their radios to a dedicated signal, 91.5 FM “The Rockin’ Rudolph,” and watch the frenetic, extravagant display play out in time to the music, all from the warmth of their car.
Doug Schultz, 46, is the mastermind behind the epic display.
He’s been doing it for about eight years, but the computerized aspect came five years ago, out of a tough time in his life -- around Thanksgiving in 2008, his mother passed away.
Distraught, and with time on his hands, he decided to find something to occupy his mind and his time.
So he invested in some light sequencing gear, along with some software, and set up an elaborate display. And he hasn’t looked back.
“It’s just kind of grown from there,” he said.
What started as a relatively modest operation continues to grow and grow as he ropes in more neighbors. Six houses on the block are now part of the all-out light display.
This year, with the addition of some wireless equipment, he was even able to include a house across the street.
He said the place can be pretty hopping depending on the day and the weather. School buses even stop to check it out, he said. He can even hear the school kids scream with glee on occasion.
“That’s part of what I do it for,” he said. “I like to see that it brings joy to other people”
East Siders and folks from throughout the Twin Cities come to watch the display.
For a good cause
Schultz doesn’t charge anything for the show, but he does ask for donations. He takes both cash and food donations, which he brings regularly to Merrick Community Services’ food shelf.
Courteney Roessler, who manages Merrick’s food shelf, said Schultz’s efforts help address a real need, at a time when donations have been dwindling.
“Unfortunately, we have seen a decline (in donations) in the last year,” Roessler said.
So efforts like Schultz’s are particularly meaningful, she said. “It’s really great that he’s trying to do something on his level.”
Roessler noted that Schultz has upped the ante in recent years.
Last year, he raised a total of 600 pounds of food, not to mention cash donations. This year, he’s shooting for 1,000 pounds.
Roessler said all of the donated items that the food shelf takes in gets turned around and given away the very same day. And the demand outweighs the supply by a long shot.
Donations have decreased from 2012, she said. “It’s getting tougher and tougher, unfortunately.”
While what Schultz is doing could be considered a hobby, the amount of effort could be said to add up to that of a part-time job. He even went so far as to take time off from work in order to get the holiday light show up and running.
The summers consist of numerous garage sale trips, searching for new lights to add to the ever-glowing collection. The lights take up the majority of overhead storage space in his three-car garage, he said.
He noted that all the electricity expenses are paid out of pocket, and split between five neighbors.
His wife, Laura Schultz, said that the lights have also had the effect of bringing neighbors together.
Neighbor Carla Hoffman hesitantly agreed to let Doug Schultz put up lights in her yard a few years back.
But it didn’t take long for the decorative spirit to catch on -- she could see that it was for a good cause.
“By the second year, I was out looking for (lights) and filling out my yard,” she said.
She described Schultz as a guy who “would give you the shirt off his back.”
Schultz seems proud of his work, which is a year-long endeavor.
“You could probably call it an obsession,” Schultz said.
His wife put it more gently.
“It’s his labor of love,” she said.
Schultz does a similar display for Halloween, also collecting donations to give to Merrick’s food shelf.
Hoffman said she’s glad to have Schultz as a neighbor, even one with eccentric holiday lights.
“He’s the neighbor that anyone would want to have,” she said.
Pam Voss, another neighbor, said she happily participates in the light show, offering up her yard to Schultz’s endeavor.
She said her favorite song and light sequence combination is to “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It’s got an epic rock ‘n’ roll theme, and the lights are “just in perfect timing” with the music, she said.
Special times, and many songs
Laura Schultz said the display is an endearing experience for her.
Sometimes late in the evenings, after the cars have stopped coming, she and Doug sit out and watch some of the songs together.
“It’s special for both of us,” she said.
He has synced up dozens of songs including “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and perhaps his personal favorite, a monologue from the Peanuts character Linus.
In the short segment in the movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus talks about the meaning of Christmas.
Laura said Doug also has a light sequence to go along with the song “Let it Snow,” which she teasingly tells him not to play.
Because it snows when it plays, she said. ... Perhaps he’s been playing it a lot this year.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org , or follow on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.
See the light
The Schultz Family Lights display can be seen at 1526 York Ave. from 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 5 to 10 p.m. on weekends. The last night of the lights display will be Saturday, Jan. 4.
Drivers can tune their radios to 91.5 FM and listen to holiday music timed to the elaborate lights sequence.
Though the light viewing is free, viewers are highly encouraged to bring food or cash donations. The donations go directly to Merrick Community Services’ food shelf.