By Brandon Dumsky
Steve Steiner has been constructing and erecting Christmas lighting displays on Blue Springs' Chicago Street for more than 30 years. After all those decades of climbing neighborhood roofs to set up displays and coordinating the annual spectacle, he finally became exhausted.
"People don't realize the amount of work that goes into this project," says Steiner. "I became pretty worn out every year after doing it."
The annual Chicago Street Christmas light display was a tradition in Blue Springs for quite some time. Every holiday season spectators would drive through a neighborhood in central Blue Springs to marvel at the animated lighting displays of Santa Claus and his reindeer, snowball-slinging children, and even the story of Jesus Christ.
But with the lack of volunteers offering to help with the annual display and Chicago Street neighbors becoming old enough to not be able to get up on their roof in order to put up Christmas lights, Steiner finally decided it was time to call it quits.
"I was asked, 'when are you going to quit doing this?' " said Steiner. "It made me start thinking and if I was going to stop, I would have to let people know."
So 2012 was the last time holiday lights shined on Chicago Street.
"I had 20 to 25 houses with people who couldn't get up there (on the roofs) anymore," Steiner said. "Although I had received input from three or four people offering to help, it just wasn't enough."
Steiner looked into other possibilities to carry on the tradition. "I had two local churches offering to continue the display, but there wasn't enough space or electricity to do so."
Once news got out that the Chicago Street Christmas display was no more, Steiner received a call from the city of Buckner.
"In November of last year, I heard Mr. Steiner was retiring his display," says Buckner Park Board president Ed Burns. "It has been my dream to establish Christmas in the park for our community and I contacted him immediately."
Burns said he tried to have a Christmas display in his town by seeking donations of used Christmas lights from local citizens back in 2011. But he only acquired enough to decorate a few buildings and trees despite purchasing a few new lights and displays in 2012 as well.
"I thought the former Chicago Street lights would be an excellent opportunity for Buckner," said Burns.
At the same time, Steiner was contemplating what to do with the lighting displays. "I was going to wait till a year to decide what to do," he said. "I was thinking about salvaging the displays. But once I met Ed and Mayor Dan Hickson and went through their park, I was impressed with the city and felt good about their intentions."
"I invited Mr. Steiner to meet with me and Buckner Mayor Dan Hickson," says Burns. "He (Steiner) liked what he saw and said he wanted to carry on the tradition of the Chicago Street Lights here."
"I could have sold the displays for a considerable amount of money," Steiner said. "But it (Chicago Street display) was a charity thing all along and why make money off of it?"
Steiner said he had a few stipulations before relinquishing the lights over to Buckner.
"One, if they accept charity donations during the display, 10 percent of all donations collected would have to go to local elementary school teachers. Two, if the city of Buckner decides to stop doing the display within the first five years, they have to give the lights back to me. And three, they must put up (as many) of the original lights as possible."
Planning and erecting the former Chicago Street displays are underway in Buckner. Steiner said he worked with the city of Buckner to help get them erected and teach how to maintain the displays.
The Christmas lighting display will now be featured at Heisler-Burns Park off of BB Highway and Sibley Road.
"Enter Veterans Drive to drive through the park," says Burns. "Signs will be along the roadway directing you where to go."
Visitors will be able to view the lighting displays' new home by driving through the park itself. A lighting ceremony at Heisler-Burns Park will kick off the new Buckner holiday tradition at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 27. The display itself will run from Nov. 27 to Jan. 1. Times are 6 to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m., Friday through Sunday.
Admittance is free and Burns says they will be accepting donations at the end of the display.
Steiner was informed that a street was named after him in honor of the lighting donations he bestowed to the Buckner community. "At first I thought it was a joke," he said. "But turns out they named a street in the park 'Steiner Way.' "
"We're a people of our word," said Mayor Hickson.