By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Volunteers are busy with the nearly monthlong process of setting Sinnissippi Park aglow for the holidays.

The annual Festival of Lights begins the day after Thanksgiving, but before that a small team of volunteers puts in roughly 200 man hours over 28 days to get the drive-thru light display ready for the thousands of spectators who make the event a holiday tradition.

“I love the children’s response,” said Ted O’Donnell, co-chairperson of the Festival of Lights. “Especially when they go through our 100-foot light tunnel. Just the oohs and aahs that we get out of them, or them just yelling in the car with excitement. Or when they see Santa here on the weekends and they’re yelling for Santa. I just get this big ole cheesy grin on my face.”

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Last year’s event drew a record 105,453 visitors to the park, 1401 N. Second St., beating the previous high in 2020 of 103,560, according to event organizers.

The more than 100 displays with more than 400,000 lights are setup by a team of about 10 volunteers.

“It’s a full-time job on top of our full-time jobs,” O’Donnell said.  “We’re never satisfied even when we do turn the lights on for the public, we’re still making tweaks throughout that last week.”

Ted O’Donnell, left, and Andrew Blevins work Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, to setup a Festival of Lights display in Sinnissippi Park, 1401 N. Second St. in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

The cost to run the displays is funded entirely by sponsor and donations. Any excess funds raised go toward the annual Fourth of July fireworks festivities.

“This is a community event that’s for the community, funded by the community,” O’Donnell said.

State Farm Insurance Agent Andrew Blevins sponsors a display and volunteered to help set it up. He and O’Donnell were a two-man team preparing the display late last week. Volunteers come and go at different hours when they’re available.

“I think this event is great because it just gives something nice back to the community,” Blevins said. “It really kind of brings people together around the holiday season, and just gives people a chance to come together and just enjoy something easy and simple.”

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O’Donnell said the hard work is rewarded when they get to see the dozens of cars line up each day.

“We get to see the response from our community when they come through, and that’s what makes it all worth it,” O’Donnell said. “We see families coming together. We see them enjoying time together, and that’s our fuel, that’s our caffeine to get us through this.”

Festival of Lights schedule

5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Sunday starting the day after Thanksgiving

5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Christmas week (Dec. 19-23)

Christmas Eve: 24 hours

Christmas Day: 24 hours

How to help

You can help keep the display running by donating at the Festival of Lights or online at

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas.

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