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They've got (holiday) spirit

A group of residents on the 6000 block of Woodbine Avenue has built up a string of neighborhood holiday lights displays over the years that has become an attraction for many seeking a healthy dose of the holiday spirit. Staff photo by Hank Long

When it comes to lighting up the winter night, the folks on the east end of the 6000 block of Woodbine Avenue pull out all the stops.

You're likely to see their work if you've driven east on I-94 past the south Century Avenue exit, as Roger Dawson's brightly-lit, red "Merry Christmas" sign spans the length of his fence that faces the road.

"That's usually the part they see first, the one that gets them interested," said Dawson, who is the unofficial block organizer for the holiday lights and lighted Christmas decorations. "Everyone calls me 'Mr. Merry Christmas.'"

That might be an understatement.

For well more than a decade, Dawson has been putting his best efforts into his Christmas lights display at 6016 Woodbine Avenue. In the process, he's inspired, and, sometimes, even dragged his neighbors along with him.

There's Gary Klein, who lives across the street from the Dawsons at 6001 Woodbine.

"I don't try to compete, but I definitely do my best," said Klein about his lights display, which features dozens of holiday-themed yard decorations and hundreds of lights lining the roof.

Then there is Debbie Bauma and Dennis Dirks, who live just a few houses down.

"We're the ones Roger kind of dragged into this," Bauma joked. "He just showed up at our door one day with some decorations and said, 'Get started.'"

Since then, Bauma and Dirks have done what a lot of couples on the block have done when approached by "Mr. Merry Christmas" -- join in on the fun.

Todd and Annette Jakober had always put up what they thought were elaborate Christmas lights displays when they lived in Hastings. But when they moved to their home on 6080 Woodbine Avenue, they knew they'd have to step it up to blend in with the neighbors.

"There's years when we're setting up our lights and Roger will walk over to say hi," Todd Jakober recalled. "But we know what he's doing. He's sizing up our display to see if we've got something new."

Awards and giving back

The east end of the 6000 block of Woodbine has been regular attraction for the annual Woodbury Holiday Lights contest and bus tour. Last year, the Jakobers won first place in the "holiday spirit" category.

But it's not about the competition said Dawson, who has won his fair share of contest awards.

"When you see the kids come by and see the twinkle in their eye, that's what it's all about," Dawson said.

For the last several years, the block has used their holiday lights displays to give back to those in need.

The Dawsons' display has a Toys for Tots drop-off box, and the Jakobers have a container to collect non-perishable food items for Second Harvest.

"Every night, we empty the container and it's full of food," said Annette Jakober. "It's amazing how many people come out to see the lights and then come back to drop something off."

For the last several years, Klein and Dawson have been entertaining visitors in cars, buses and limousines by donning Santa Claus and elf costumes.

Klein puts on the red suit and beard, while Dawson does his best sidekick elf impression as the two hand out candy canes and small stuffed animals to many of the youngsters who visit their yard displays.

"One year a little guy came up to Santa and told him he wanted some army men toys for Christmas," Klein recalls. "They came back the next night to drop off some (Toys for Tots) donations and brought us some baked cookies. Then I said, 'Santa hasn't forgot about your army men.'"

"I'll never forget the look on his face when he said 'You remembered!'"