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Shining bright

Christmas Acres attracts thousands, raises money for charity

By Darcy Dougherty Maulsby - Farm News staff writer | Dec 22, 2020

By DARCY DOUGHERTY MAULSBY

yettergirl@yahoo.com

LE MARS — Drive down Impala Avenue 7 miles west of Le Mars in the daytime in December, and it appears this is the middle of nowhere, with just a few farmhouses here and there. But turn south on this gravel road off Highway 3 around 5 p.m., and a dazzling new world seems to rise amidst the empty cornfields.

Welcome to Christmas Acres, the largest country Christmas lighting display in the tri-state area, featuring more than 200,000 sparkling lights.

“This turned out to be a ‘build it and they will come’ kind of deal,” said Rob Scheitler, 57, whose home forms the hub of Christmas Acres, where spectacular lighting displays are located throughout the front yard, the grove and the fields surrounding the acreage.

The Scheitlers, including Rob, his wife, Joyce, and their daughter, Shaunna, have hosted Christmas Acres ever since they built their home in the country 24 years ago. Christmas Acres creates a magical setting for a “drive-through Christmas,” where people can view the lights from the comfort of their vehicle. They can also park along the gravel road and walk on paths that run past the glittering light displays, while listening to Christmas music playing from 15 speakers strategically placed around Christmas Acres. Guests might even see reporters from Sioux City’s Channel 9 or Channel 4 doing their evening newscast from Christmas Acres.

A visit to Christmas Acres has become a holiday tradition for a growing number of families. What once attracted many local residents is now drawing people from up to seven hours away, from South Dakota to western Nebraska.

“I just got a call today from someone in Virginia, Minnesota, who wants to come see the lights,” said Scheitler, who was busy baking holiday treats when the call came in on December 17. “That town is north of Duluth.”

One Saturday evening in mid-December 2020, the line of vehicles headed to Christmas Acres stretched a mile and a half.

“People were waiting 45 minutes just to get up here,” Scheitler said. “We jokingly call this ‘Christmas chaos.’ Everyone is happy and upbeat, though.”

Connecting the community

This kind of holiday magic is just what people needed during this challenging year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic and the turbulent presidential election, Scheitler said. Even Scheitler’s neighbors don’t mind the bumper-to-bumper traffic that sometimes fills the road to Christmas Acres when the lights are shining from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. from late November through December 31.

It helps that Christmas Acres incorporates philanthropy along with family fun. What started as a few people wanting to donate money to help the Scheitler family pay their electric bill for the weeks that the Christmas lights are on has turned into a powerful way to raise money for the Christian Needs Center. This food and clothing pantry in Le Mars has served people throughout Plymouth County since 1988.

“Rob and his family are wonderful,” said Susan Van Driel, coordinator at the Christian Needs Center. “Support from them and the churches in the area allow us to fulfill our mission.”

That mission includes providing food and clothing to people in need year-round. It also involves a Christmas program that serves more than 40 area families and approximately 23 elderly residents. The Christmas program includes a holiday meal with ham or turkey, along with winter gloves, puzzles, games, books, clothing, blankets and more.

The money that people drop in the donation box at the end of Scheitler’s driveway at Christmas Acres helps support efforts like this. People’s generosity this year has been tremendous, said Scheitler, as his eyes welled up with tears. “By mid-December, people had already donated nearly $30,000. It’s just incredible.”

Honoring the past, creating new traditions

This generosity allows the Christian Needs Center to pay the Scheitler’s electric bill during the peak time when all the lights are on at Christmas Acres.

“My husband and some of our volunteers also help Rob set up some of the lights in September and October,” Van Driel said.

Putting up the lights is no small undertaking.

“We started hanging lights on August 22 this year,” said Scheitler, whose interest in Christmas lights began at age 10 when he helped string holiday lights on the house and fences at his farm’s farm near Le Mars.

While 200,000-plus lights may sound unmanageable, everything is numbered and has its place, not only in the displays at Christmas Acres, but in the sheds where all the displays are stored in the off season.

“Since everything is numbered, you just follow the numbers,” said Scheitler, who is a full-time programmer for all the quality systems at Wells Enterprises in Le Mars.

A self-described tinkerer, Scheitler also makes sure everything runs as efficiently as possible. Even though many of his lighting displays include vintage holiday decorations from years ago, they are energy efficient, since he rewires everything with LED lighting. That makes it feasible to display the oversized, lighted bells in the evergreen trees to lighted reindeer heads that graced the streetscapes of Le Mars when Scheitler was growing up in the early 1970s.

Many of the 164 lighted sculptures at Christmas Acres, including 52 lighted street pole decorations, have come from local communities. Now that people across the region know about Christmas Acres, it’s not uncommon for Scheitler to come home from work and find a “donation” of vintage Christmas lighting decorations in his driveway.

The Scheitler family also plan to add a few lighting displays from Merlin Fort, who offered an impressive holiday lighting display at Dakota City for decades before he called it quits in the past year.

Sometimes Scheitler even makes his own creations, including the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round by the garage. No matter what, the reason for the season is always on display at Christmas Acres, thanks to a vintage, outdoor nativity scene donated by the Methodist church in Le Mars.

“We’ll keep going with Christmas Acres as long as we can, God willing,” said Scheitler, who is an organist and active member of the All Saints Catholic Parish in Le Mars. “We love to put a smile on people’s faces and joy in their heart.”

If you go

Christmas Acres is located at 18481 Impala Avenue, 7 miles west of Le Mars off Highway 3. The lights are on every night through December 31, unless it’s raining or snowing. Call 712-541-0577 for more information.

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