What’s 35 feet tall, covered in 19,000 lightbulbs, and has one big switch? It’s the Christmas tree now found in Central Park Plaza in Downtown Valparaiso where hundreds of people gathered during the Valpo Parks Winter Fest & Tree Lighting on Saturday evening.
While visitors headed toward the plaza, they strolled the streets and viewed storefronts that appeared to be from the set of a Hallmark movie. The holidaycharm continued to the plaza where carols rang from speakers and The Jingletones, who delighted fans. The trees along the plaza boardwalk were lit with many lights that clearly outlined the path to visit the festival’s special guest.
Santa, that special guest, arrived in style as he rode in a firetruck to the event. He took the best seat in the plaza in his sleigh under the Northwest Health Amphitheater. Santa listened and posed for photos as the children and some adults made their Christmas wishes.
1st Source Bank sponsored the annual Winter Fest &Tree Lighting with help from Valpo Parks. Employees and volunteers of 1st Source Bank helped to fill cups of hot chocolate for visitors and arranged for sponsored photos with Santa.
Zahra S., who recently moved to Valparaiso, didn’t know that Winter Fest was happening until about an hour before the event.
“This is such a happy surprise. I changed my plans to come here,” Zahra S. said. “I was not in the Christmas mood until I came here.”
She was impressed by the event and the Midwest Training & Ice Center ice skaters who kicked-off the opening of the outdoor ice rink at the William E. Urschel Pavilion located across the way from the amphitheater. Guests were invited to lace their skates and take a spin or two around the rink.
The highlight of the festival was the lighting of the tree. The crowds gathered excitedly to watch a giant switch flipped by a few helping hands from area youth. The countdown began with the crowd cheering their excitement, and a loud applause was heard when the tree was lit.
The night was not only filled with Christmas tunes and lighting of the tree, but also an award presentation to one of Valparaiso’s finest, Susie Hord.
Hord, who has been making an incredibly positive impact on Valparaiso since 1972, was named the recipient of the Good Neighbor Award. She attended Valparaiso University and then chose Valparaiso as her hometown. Hord is the former director of Immanuel Lutheran Preschool, where she served for 25 years. She volunteers with several organizations because her passion is for helping kids, families, and the elderly.
“The award is very gratifying, but I certainly don’t volunteer for an award. I do it because Valpo is a wonderful community and I want to give back a little bit of what I have received from people here,” saidHord.
The community nominates who they think is deserving of the award because they are making a difference in Valparaiso. The Good Neighbor Award, which was handed to Hord by Valparaiso Parks Department Executive Director John Seibert, is an annual recognition given to an individual who has demonstrated exemplary commitment to the greater community through volunteering and service.
To learn more about Valpo Parks' winter events and make the most of this holiday season, visit www.valpoparks.org.