By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — It was another record year for the Festival of Lights, which surprised its own organizers by topping last year’s attendance numbers.

This year’s drive-thru holiday lights display in Sinnissippi Park drew 105,453 visitors, beating last year’s record of 103,560, according to event organizers.

“It was absolutely, for us, astonishing and just shows that the community support is wonderful in Rockford and strong still,” said Ted O’Donnell, who runs the festival with his cousin Tom Luepkes.

O’Donnell said festivals across the country were reporting that their numbers were down compared to 2020 but higher than 2019. Even before this year’s festival began, he said he expected fewer cars this year than last.

“2020 was considered a fluke year. Everybody was crammed in their homes, they all wanted to get out, so everybody’s numbers were inflated. People wanted something to do,” he said. “So we didn’t expect to beat our 2020 numbers.”

He said part of the reason for the record may have been support from out-of-town visitors. He noticed many license plates from outside Illinois while working the festival, which marked its 32nd year.

“It’s not just the growth in the community and the community support, but the outreach out of Rockford,” he said. “People are starting to hear that our free drive-thru festival is constantly full of surprises and new and exciting things for their family to view.”

Festival of Lights attendance

2021: 105,453

2020: 103,560

2019: 84,840

2018: 52,758

Source: Festival of Lights / Rockford 4th of July Civic Committee