Coldwater (Ohio) Memorial Park each summer is abuzz with laughter as families swim in the community pool and socialize at ball diamonds and playgrounds.
But as the temperature drops each fall, the town's 1-square-mile park becomes deserted except for an occasional squirrel.
That all changed during the 2021 Christmas season.
Coldwater Kiwanis members in 2020 discussed ways the organization could give back to the community. One suggestion was to decorate the park for Christmas. Kiwanis members Nancy Hartke and Molly Hay were immediately on board. They felt the park had much to offer long after the summer months ended. The retired educators offered to chair the event.
Hartke and Hay met multiple times with each other and eventually with other community members to lay the ground work for “Christmas at Memorial Park."
"It truly was a community project!" Hartke said. "So many volunteers worked together to help the idea become a reality."
The response to the public announcement in January 2021 was overwhelming, they said. Individuals, groups and businesses were quick to volunteer time, resources and funds to the Christmas project.
"Nancy and I worked well together but we couldn’t have done it without all the different committees, town and business support and the many volunteers," Hay said. "We appreciated help from the entire Kiwanis family including the K-Kids, Builders Club, Key Club and Aktion Club, and Kiwanis International for donating shirts and sending a photographer."
Committees were formed and a flurry of fun activities were scheduled for the first two weekends in December.
Approximately 2,000 people attended the kick-off Dec. 3 featuring a Christmas parade and “Flip the Switch” lighting event. Students from the local school’s FFA class drove decorated farm equipment in the parade. Other entries included golf carts with strings of lights and one very large, inflatable Grinch.
The walk-through display in the park featured a 200-foot lighted tunnel guarded by life-sized toy soldiers. Walking snowmen, gingerbread and other holiday characters greeted visitors and posed for photo opps.
The back-to-back weekends included pony rides, ice skating, a Santa village and a dreamy winter wonderland scene at the amphitheater. Santa and Mrs. Claus greeted children in Santa’s village at the gazebo.
A special Kids Day was held and prizes awarded. Totally Promotional donated many of the prizes and provided banners to thank event sponsors.
Families and businesses participated in the Christmas card walk, and young students decorated ornaments for trees in the park. Everyone enjoyed free cookies and cocoa at the Coldwater Kiwanis trailer.
"One young man found the park so mesmerizing that he proposed to his girlfriend during the holidays," Hartke explained. "A Hallmark moment for sure!"
Many people were found dancing on the winter wonderland stage as they basked in the Christmas spirit, she said.
"A beautiful and magical experience!" Hartke added.
Hartke and Hay thank the residents of Coldwater and the surrounding communities for their support, words of appreciation and respect for the park. Plans for Christmas at Memorial Park 2022 are already in the works, they said.
"Next year, we hope to have more lights, a bigger parade and new activities for families and young children," Hartke said.
Stay updated on the 2022 event by following Christmas at Memorial Park on Facebook.