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Lake Phalen Park in east St. Paul is lit up for the holidays with a drive-thru holiday lights display that is drawing interest from all over the Twin Cities. The event, co-founded by King of Kings Church Woodbury, raises money for four different Twin Cities-based charities. Staff photo by Hank Long.

'Holiday Lights in the Park' is in full swing

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Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

Frigid temperatures in the wake of snow storm just 24 hours earlier made for a nice evening on Saturday to stay in the car and check out Christmas lights. And for the third year in a row, a hardworking group of volunteers from King of Kings Lutheran Church made Lake Phalen the place to be for just that activity.

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"It's cold, but it really is fun," Jim Kuchar, who along with his wife Sue, helped usher the cars that came lining up to see the annual Holiday Lights in the Park well before the 5:30 p.m. start time. The annual event began late last month and runs through Jan. 1.

Every night of the week from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. volunteers like the Kuchars brave the cold to man the holiday lights-themed tour that winds through Lake Phalen Park in east St. Paul.

"Really, the mission of King of Kings is to serve the community," Sue Kuchar said, as she was bundled up in a heavy, hooded jacket, and mittens complete with hand warmers. "Anything we can do to help with something like this is worth our time. And it's great to see the smiles on people's faces when they pull up."

The million-light display was installed by about 50 electricians through the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. From pirate ships, to golfing snowmen, and Santa Claus, each of the lights displays are sponsored by an area business or organization.

The cost to drive through the display, which is $10 per vehicle, goes toward four different charities including the Union Gospel Mission and Second Harvest.

On Saturday night Lisa Engh, one of the King of Kings members who helped found the charity fundraiser event, was selling entries and Holiday Lights in the Park-themed Christmas albums to visitors, some of who arrived by stretch limo and buses.

Engh said the event has received much support from St. Paul police officers who said the lights display seems to lower criminal activity in the park that has become associated with such acts over the last few years.

"It's great to see people walking their dogs in the park to see the lights and to see so many area residents come to check out the display," Engh said. "That was the goal all along, for us to get outside of our borders in Woodbury and do something nice for our neighbors."

Gary and Marilyn Barth are two of the more regular volunteers and said they have come to feel a sense of pride in how the Holiday Lights in the Park has grown in just its third year. In its first two years the event raised a total of $75,000.

"This is just part of what our church does," said Marilyn Barth, who, along with her husband has been a King of Kings member for 19 years. "Get out into our community and do something positive for others."

If you go:

What: Holiday Lights in the Park (founded by IBEW and King of Kings Church Woodbury)

When: Now through Jan. 1, nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: Lake Phalen in St. Paul

Cost: $10 per vehicle ($8 on value nights)

Why: Raises money for charities like Union Gospel Mission and Second Harvest

NOTE: The Holiday Lights in the Park organization puts out an annual "Home for the Holidays" CD. This year several performers on the CD, including Woodbury's own Phil Thompson, are gathering for a Dec. 12 "Home for the Holiday" concert taking place at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. For more information go to: www.lightsinthepark.org

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