In 1993, Jack Pickett, then president of First Bank and Trust of Brazil (now First National Bank and Trust) rounded up a small group of community leaders for a Chamber of Commerce Resource Committee. The committee was organized as a possiblity group, charged with coming up with some ideas to generate community pride.
Pickett, now deceased (April 23, 2005), came up with the idea of a non-commercial Christmas festival, designed to take advantage of Brazil's beautiful Forest Park, and provide publicity to all the beautifully-lighted homes in and around Brazil. The committee liked the idea very much, and began brainstorming on a theme, and additional ideas.
The name Christmas in the Park was brought up and adopted, and local artist Jane Mercer was commissioned to come up with a logo for the festival, which she did...the now familiar hand-painted bridge at the north end of Forest Park. The logo has since been used for Christmas Cards which can be purchased at the Chamber of Commerce office.
The first year also saw the first lighted Christmas Parade, which was a huge success, and a live concert from Hopkins and Miller.
The Christmas Fireworks Fantasy was produced for the second Christmas in the Park in 1994, and has been a huge hit each year.
Christmas ornaments, t shirts and sweat shirts were introduced in subsequent years, and live entertainment has been provided by the Butler Madrigal singers, the Banks of the Wabash Chorus, and many others. An annual art show is held each year. It has been at the Clay County Courthouse, but this year will be at the Clay Historical Museum on National Avenue.
The Resource Committee quickly became the Christmas in the Park Committee, which has maintained itself through several chairpersons and members, but several of the original members remain on the committee. This page is dedicated to Jack Pickett, "father" of Christmas in the Park, Nick Miller of the Parks Commission who worked tirelessly until his retirement from the committee last year, and passed away in 2001. Tim Weaver, who has been and remains the parade chairperson, our own "Santa Claus," Bill Buehler, and the late Jana Oehler, who served as chairperson of the committee 1995-97.
Some controversy arose over the change in venue for the Christmas Fireworks show on Dec. 14th of 2002. Mark Hopkins of Pyrotechnic Productions took a one-year hiatus from doing the famous and fabulous fireworks show, choreographed to music on WSDM radio for personal reasons. Mark Adamson of Aerial Arts Fireworks, also in Brazil, put on a beautiful, 'tho different show, shot from Forest Park instead of downtown Brazil. The music on WSDM was color-coordinated to the fireworks. Many letters were written to the Brazil Times decrying the committee's decision to use a different fireworks company, but most were quieted after Mark Adamson's show. As luck would have it, though, Mark suffered a severe kidney stone attack the day before the program. However, the show went off as scheduled, with only Mark Adamson knowing that not everything was exactly as planned.
Mark Hopkins of Pyrotechnic Productions has agreed to resume the Christmas Fireworks Fantasy in 2003, which will be on Saturday, December 6th. The 2003 committee is headed by Jeannie Burris, with Mike Petersen as co-chairperson. Pete Paullus is the park decorating chairperson, and Tim Weaver, Dennis Nevins, and Albert Starr headed up the parade committee. Kelly Stearley handled fundraising. The 2004 Committee chairpersons will be Kelly Stearley and Eric Bass.
The 2003 parade was the coldest on record, about 25 degrees with up to 20 mile-an-hour gusting winds and SNOW! It was pretty, but there were a lot of cold feet! Crowd size was excellent, considering the weather. The Aerial Arts fireworks show after the parade at Forest Park lasted about 20 minutes and was excellent. The first-ever Christmas in the Park 5K run was held on Saturday, Nov. 29 in cold weather, but a large number of runners and walkers registered and ran or walked the course. Eric Bass chaired that event.
In the summer of 2004, Mark Hopkins of Pyrotechnic Productions passed away suddenly of a heart attack. Mark was the person responsible for "A Christmas Fireworks Fantasy" for the past 10 years. His presence will be missed very much. This year's opening night fireworks display by Aerial Arts Productions will be in memory of Mark Hopkins. A music soundtrack on 97.7 WSDM will accompany the fireworks display at 8pm Friday, November 26th at Forest Park. The 2004 Christmas in the Park events went very well.
2005 Update: The committee has had several successful fun raisers this year, and purchased a 10x10 vinyl tent, a popcorn popper, and tables and chairs for meetings and other uses. The 2005 Gift of Christmas Fireworks Show will be on Friday, November 25 at 8pm at Forest Park, but this year the musical accompaniment moved from WSDM to WBOW-FM, 102.7. Crossroads Communications, owners of both stations decided to make the change because of a format change on WSDM. The 5k walk/run was not held this year, but should return to the venue next year. In 2006 the 5k event will be cosponsored and run by the Clay County YMCA.
In 2006 CIP decided to spend some of the money raised last year on a new suit for "Santa Bill" Beeler. Bill has played Santa Claus in Clay County for well over 50 years, and has been the "official" Santa for CIP since 1993. CIP also invested funds and person-hours into a new concession stand in front of the municipal pool at Forest Park. The brick structure is air conditioned and heated, offering much more space and usability for the next hundred years or so! Fundraisers in 2006 included a basket bingo in May and a Jonah Fish Fry the day before Father's Day. Both lost money, so emphasis will be placed on future fund raisers this year. They included a Haunted House at the Forest Park Pavillion Oct. 27-28, and a Christmas Auction on December 2nd that was attended by about 75 people.
In June of 2007 the committee asked to become an independent entity, seperating itself from the Clay County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber agreed, seeing that the committee had "grown" the event and no longer needed the umbrella of the Chamber. The seperation was amicable and the Chamber wished the commitee best of success in the future. 2007 Fund Raisers included a very successful Strawberry Festival at the Court House in early June; a Jonah Fish Fry in May; the Night at the Manor Haunted House in October, and the Christmas Auction in December.
Our Santa Clause of nearly 60 years, Bill Beeler fell on hard times regarding his health. He passed away on November 19, 2007, just five days prior to our annual parade, which he looked forward to so much every year. Charlie Brown had offered to step in at the park in Bill's place this year, and will take Bill's place in the parade this year. But our celebration will never be quite the same.
In 2009 the Christmas Auction format was changed. Previously held in December at Kennedy Crossing Bingo Hall, the 2009 event was on November 7th at the VFW Hall. The auction was preceded by a dinner at 4:30, with Charlie Brown doing the auctioneering starting at 6:30. It was a very successful event. 2009 also was the first year for the new Santa House in Forest Park. The old Santa House was not worth repairing, so the committee's funds were used for a very nice new place for kids to enjoy a visit with Santa.
The 2011 Gift of Christmas Fireworks show marks the first show that will be
without a musical accompaniment on radio.
The CIP committee meets monthly, January through September, then bi-weekly October through December. Volunteers are always welcome. For more information, send us an e-mail through this link.
Themes from past Christmas in the Park:
1993-"Christmas in the Park" (its first year)
1994 "Entertaining the Holiday Spirit"
1995-"He touched the world with His Love"
1996-"The beauty of Christmas"
1997-"Brighter than ever"
1998-"Sights and Sounds of Christmas"
1999-"All the glitter of Christmas"
2000-"Joy to the world"
2001-"The night's aglow"
2002-"His Love Reaching"
2003-"Angels among us; Christmas through the eyes of a child"
2004-"Twelve Days of Christmas"
2005-"Christmas begins in your heart"
2006-"Christmas Begins with Christ"
2008-"All American Christmas"
2012-"An Antique Christmas"
The poem below, written in 1997 by Jane Mercer, kind of says it all!
CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK
There was a man who had a dream
And Christmas was its only theme.
Then festivals would come to mind,
And it must be of a different kind.
"It's sorta like a gift," he'd say,
"For everyone who comes our way."
He couldn't do it by himself,
And so he asked some folks for help.
Soon they started on his plans,
Of night parades and marching bands.
Of carriage radies all through the park,
To see its splendor after dark.
And everywhere your eyes would scan,
You'd see a Winter Wonderland!
Fireworks will invade the night
With children squeeling with delight;
And then there's Santa, what a treat;
And carolers singing in the street.
Now each one had a job to do,
And one by one we saw it through.
We felt a certain kind of pride,
Because we knew down deep inside,
The town would glitter when adorned,
And Christmas in the Park was born!
When Holy Night rings through the air,
Let's remember that we are there
To celebrate Lord Jesus' Birth
est One to live on earth.
The love of Christmas is our theme,
And let's thank God, for one man's dream.
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