MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights seeks volunteers

The Wichitan

Shelby Davis 

Staff writer

Each year, between 200 and 300 people gather to witness the opening ceremonies of the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights.

The cool December air gathers loved ones and creates lasting memories that are difficult to forget.

However, when the displays open, people often do not realize volunteers have worked all year long to prepare.

“When the switch is thrown and the lights come on, kids oh and aw, that’s as good as it gets,” said Don Henschel Jr., Fantasy of Lights display builder and board member. “I like to stand across the street until the speeches are over and the lights have come on, then walk around quietly and listen to the kids’ reactions.”

MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights is the only display in the United States with a storybook type theme, using fairy tales and children’s book characters as a base.

More than 200,000 people visit the displays each holiday season to reminisce on old memories or to create new ones.

“It’s not the holiday season in Wichita Falls without the Fantasy of Lights,” said Randy Canivel, second year coordinator and recreational sport and wellness center assistant director.

What started as a Christmas tree lit with a single blue bulb on Mr. and Mrs. L.T. Burns’ front porch on 10th Street in the 1920’s, has now grown to display more than 20,000 lights and 34-lighted and animated scenes.

In 1974, Archer City officials turned the displays over to MSU so that the community could enjoy the displays that the Burns’ had left behind.

To ensure that the displays would be presented to the community, volunteers refurbished and rebuilt them.

This marked the first year that volunteers worked countless hours on the Fantasy of Lights event.

Now, volunteers labor over the displays for almost 1,500 hours each year.

“I don’t see how it would happen without the volunteers,” Henschel said.

The Fantasy of Lights work day invites Wichita Falls and members of the surrounding communities to be a part of the tradition.

Volunteers clean, paint, and use any of their special talents to get the Fantasy of Lights displays ready.

This year’s Fantasy of Lights work day will be held on Oct. 6from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fantasy of Lights workshop, located just off of Highway 79.

On the Border has donated lunch for up to 200 volunteers.

“We won’t turn anyone down. You never know what talents you will find,” said Armando Muniz, MSU grounds superintendent and longtime Wichita Falls community member.

Last year between 200 and 300 people volunteered for the Fantasy of Lights workday.

Students, faculty and staff, city government officials, residents of Sheppard Air Force Base and members of the surrounding communities volunteer each year.

“I want to get the community more involved so they can have ownership,” Muniz said.

Each year, members of the Greek life community, art students and other student organizations volunteer their time on the Fantasy of Lights workday.

Students help keep the event up and running. Now even more students are getting involved.

Canivel said this year he hopes more than 200 students will volunteer.

“Over the last two years, students have made a strong showing,” Muniz said.

Taking part in the workday, then visiting the lights and seeing the work that has been done provides a unique experience for those involved.

Henschel experiences this first hand, as he spends countless hours each summer working on various displays so that other families can enjoy them in the same way that his has.

Henschel said his kids chased bubbles from the same display he works on now.

“My favorite part is opening night and the whole month of December with everyone coming out,” Canivel said. “I just like seeing families out and enjoying it all.”

This past summer, Canivel worked on six of the major displays such as Peter Pan, Cinderella and the Christmas Carol.

While there is no major talk of adding any new displays to the Fantasy of Lights, Henschel said if given the opportunity, he would like to build one or two more.

Even though there are not going to be any new displays this year, almost all of the displays are going to have work done before the first week of December, when the lights come on for everyone to see.

Not only will the displays be retouched, they might also be arranged in a new way so that visitors are given a new perspective while making the journey through the different setups.

“Hopefully, all displays will be looking brand new,” Canivel said. “People will see a new look in the MSU-Burns Fantasy of lights.”

Volunteering does not stop with the workday.

It is carried out through the beginning of January when it is time for the lights to be turned off.

From Dec. 7 until Jan. 1, up to five volunteers are needed each night to collect donations.

This year, they have already received confirmation that 92.9 KNIN, University Kiowa’s Club, SAFB, Hirschi High School, KAUZ News Channel 6 and First Presbyterian Church provide the 130 volunteers.

Canivel said the success of the Fantasy of Lights “shows the commitment that the town’s people have to keeping the tradition alive.”

Volunteering, donations and sponsorships are a major part of what makes this $40,000 event happen.

The MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights is a non-profit organization.

They receive financial support from Wells Fargo, United Supermarket, First Bank, Burns family and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Donations from individuals can be dropped in a boot while driving or walking through the Fantasy of Lights or given through the Fantasy of Lights website.

Last year, because of the donations that were given, the event made $11,000 to be used for security, insurance, meals and the upkeep of the displays.

Family and friends walk through the lights, chase bubbles from the robot and drop letters to Santa in the big mailbox, making the holiday season even more meaningful.

As a member of the community, Muniz gets to bring his children to the lights each year and watch their faces light up as they pass through some of their favorite displays.

None of this would be possible without the volunteers.

“We couldn’t make Fantasy of Lights possible without the community,” Canivel said.