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The lights are on

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Visitors begin enjoying the Elks Home display

By John Barnhart

Paul D. Helsel, who heads up the Elks organization nationwide, was sure that there would be a line of cars near the Elks National Home full of people hoping his remarks would be brief. He was right. As soon as he pressed the switch that turned on the lights Friday night, a steady stream of cars began rolling into the Elks Home property.

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    The Elks National Home has decorated for Christmas in a big way for decades. Its spectacular display of Christmas lights draws people from all over the area, and adjoining localities, to cruise along the home’s driveway and look at the lights. Bedford City Manager Charles Kolakowski, who lives across the street from the home, commented that he lives in the best decorated neighborhood in the world.

    “We really look forward to this night,” he said during the Home’s annual Christmas lighting ceremony.

    The Home has held a ceremony, attended by Elks leaders from around the country as well as local dignitaries, for 36 years. Helsel, currently the Elks Grand Exalted Ruler, said that he has been coming since the early ‘90s. Helsel lives in Delaware.

    State Sen. Steve Newman said he has attended the ceremony for 13 years. He said that Christmas is a time when thoughts go to people helping others. This is something the Elks do all year long, Newman went on to say, and recited a lengthy list of programs that the Elks sponsor, some with price tags that exceed a million dollars. One that he mentioned, the Elks student scholarship program, is a $2.2 million endeavor.

    The lights will be on every night from 5:30 until 10 p.m. through New Year’s Eve. The Elks expect 20,000 cars, carrying some 100,000 visitors, to pass through during that time to enjoy the illuminated scenes and 50,000 lights.