Volunteers make it happen
The lights are on!

Wanda English Burnett

“There are no words to describe it,” Joe Day said of the love and appreciation the community poured out as they worked together to get his massive Christmas light display set up this weekend at his Versailles home.

Day, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, and has been undergoing chemotherapy, was not able to put together his display located at the Intersection of US 421 and US 50 that has become a family tradition for thousands of people for the past 32 years.

After an article appeared in the Osgood Journal the week of Thanksgiving, Bill McDonald of Osgood did what many people had thought about. He called Day and asked permission to organize a volunteer group to set out the many wooden houses, complete with figures, string lights from massive evergreens and set gigantic lighted letters spelling out Merry Christmas.

The darkness surrounding Day’s home was more oppressive than the cancer he is fighting, so he agreed to McDonald’s proposal. That’s when McDonald pulled in every resource asking for volunteers. They came and kept coming.

The spirit of Christmas was alive and well in Ripley County as nearly 100 people signed up to work on Friday and Saturday. Some people came both days, such as Jimmy Hyatt of Friendship, who worked 11 hours on Friday and was back on the job Saturday morning.

Community leaders, organizations, agencies and individuals came together and either volunteered their time or donated to the cause. Some did both.

What takes Day months to set in place each year only took this group a few days. “It is just incredible,” Day told the Osgood Journal. At dusk Saturday evening, December 12, the dream McDonald had to have the place glowing became a reality.

Cincinnati television crews rolled onto the scene to cover the heartwarming story of the generosity of the people of Ripley County.

Not only was the light display in place, but extra touches had been added. A giant greeting card was made and signed by all the volunteers. This was presented to Day, who was just overwhelmed.

“This is all unreal- unbelievable,” Day told the Osgood Journal. “It’s so amazing - I just want to thank everyone.”

Sunday a new group of volunteers came. A community choir was put into place as the group “caroled for cancer” under the direction of Day’s son, Darrell. Banners from the American Cancer Society were hung - poignant reminders of the reason so many people converged on the scene in the first place.

The beautiful music of the carolers roused Day from his post inside his home. “I’m going out on the deck,” he told his wife Peggy.

As Day made his way onto the deck overlooking the Christmas display, he waved to those below - who cheered his appearance.

True to his stamina to fight the cancer that is ravaging his body, Day stood the entire time listening to the carolers.

“It’s like a living Christmas card,” Darrell noted as people opened up their talents to bring joy to his father, who has given so much through his efforts to share the spirit of Christmas by putting up the large display year after year.

Day, one of eight siblings, was flanked by family - brothers, sisters, children, Darrell of Indianapolis, Dennis of Lebanon, and Sandy Howard of Versailles, and numerous other family members as well as a host of friends.

BJ Myers’ usually clear voice broke as she sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” when some of the words heard were “friends who are dear to us” and “all our troubles will be out of sight.”

Day’s brother, Dale, who has been in ministry for over 50 years said they are a close family who rely on the promises of the Lord to get through tough times such as these. His daughters - Debra Stephen, Dawna Mathews, Dana Vest and Danita Rogers, were among those singing special music.

Dale said, “It’s been amazing to see the turnout of people who came from all walks of life come out to help with this.”

He said “We look to the scripture ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’” when dealing with the various sicknesses his family has and is dealing with.

McDonald, who got the ball rolling, stayed right to the end. His wife of 35 years said, “It’s a side of him I’ve never seen.”

It wasn’t her husband’s generosity or goodwill that astounded her, it was the depths of feeling he related as people began to show the true spirit of Christmas. “He’s never been so public,” Toni noted as her husband orchestrated the monumental task without hesitation.

Comments throughout the event included, “I count it an honor to help,” said Johnnie Lohrum of Osgood. His son, Micah, who was a much needed electrician, also expressed his gratitude to help out a “fellow electrician.” Day is a retired union electrician.

Others sent comments to the newspaper saying how thankful they were for the display being erected and were thankful for such a generous community. The effort has been and will be long talked about for years to come because one man stepped up.

McDonald was hesitant to take credit for the weekend that brought much joy to Joe Day and so many more. But, at the very end on Sunday as the choir sang, “Here Comes Santa Claus” the bearded guy in a red suit came down Day’s driveway (must have slid down the outside of the chimney) in person. He knows who did what and McDonald deserves a full stocking for his unselfish actions.

If the disease of cancer could be stamped out by kindness, Ripley County would have won the award for eradicating this deadly diagnosis for many.

Plans are to have the display lit every night until the end of the month.

TOP: Joe Day came out onto his deck on Sunday to greet the carolers and thank everyone for the outpouring of community spirit that lifted his spirits as he battles cancer. SECOND FROM TOP is a group of volunteers who converged on the Day residence on Saturday putting up lights and displays with the grand lighting at dusk. IMMEDIATE BELOW is a photo of a volunteer choir made up of members from various churches, family and friends who came together to sing carols for Joe. The choir was conducted by Joe's son, Darrell of Indianapolis. PICTURED BOTTOM, is Bill McDonald, who kept on the run throughout the process of getting everything into place. He came up with the idea of getting volunteers to carry on the tradition and light up the Day residence this year since Joe wasn't able to do it. Also helping (pictured right) is Jeff French, county surveyor, who pitched in for the set up.