Chuck Street still lighting up smiles with holiday display
By Bernie Schmitt
For 42 years, Chuck Street has brought Christmas magic to his friends and neighbors in Vincennes, and for many others who have found their way to his home along South 15th Street.
Thousands have been awed by the tremendous display of holiday cheer, a colorful exhibition of happiness that brings smiles to young and old alike. The glow from more than 50,000 lights might raise Street’s electric bill for the month he keeps them on, but he keeps doing it because he likes to see those smiles.
“It’s my hobby,” he said. “It’s what I like to do.”
Each year Street tries to show something new within his display. He spends his summers working on new displays, and begins decorating in September. Midway through October, he still has displays to set up. He even sets up decorations in the vacant lot next door.
“I don’t have everything out yet,” he said, in late October. “I still have several things to do.”
The light display is officially turned on the day after Thanksgiving, and the bright flow of holiday lights lasts through Christmas. Street turns them on at around 6 each evening. They go off at 10 p.m.
Traffic gets heavy in December, when vehicles slowly drive by his home to see the lights, some stopping to spend more time taking in the beautiful brilliance. Visitors have come from other towns, too.
“Nursing home residents are still brought out here, along with lots of kids and their families,” Street said. “Little kids like to talk to me. They ask how many lights there are and how long it takes me to put them up.
“It’s sad, but with some families, this is all the Christmas they may get,” he said.
A woman who brought her children to see the light display came to his door to tell him how much they enjoyed the display and that it was likely the only Christmas they were going to have.
“I had my shoes off and went back to get them so I could give her some money to help,” he said. “But by the time I got back, she was gone.”
The lights and Christmas displays are also Street’s gift to the community. He doesn’t seek publicity, though he’s gotten it. He doesn’t light up his childhood home to get praise or to win contests. He gets humble satisfaction from the joy he sees in people’s faces.
His wife Ellen doesn’t mind the time and effort he puts into the light display. She typically decorates the inside of their home; he does the outside.
“When Chuck does something, he does it with his whole heart,” she said.
She said their daughters always enjoyed her husband’s light displays and looked forward to the holidays each year.
“When the grandkids were little, their eyes got as big as saucers; they were so in awe of it,” she said. “That the main reaction from most children.”
He works at creating and building new displays — he has a Noah’s Ark display complete with animals he made — in his workshop. He searches for end-of-the-season sales on Christmas lights and other decorations just after the holidays. He’s meticulous not only in making sure every light is working and his displays are just right, but he also takes care in storing his treasures when it’s time to take them down.
“He has a pole where all his strands of lights are in order — all the colors are separate and in their place,” Ellen said. “Everything is in order.”
“Well, in 42 years you know what you are doing,” Chuck said.
In his spare time, Street cleans the First Church of the Nazerene, where he is in regular attendance at services. He retired 10 years ago from what was once Vincennes Steel, where he had worked for 40 years. The job was dangerous at times, and he is grateful he was never hurt. Now 72, Street said his good health allows him to continue creating and exhibiting his extraordinary Christmas light display.
“I thank the Lord for good health,” he said.
As long as he continues to be blessed with good health, Street intends to continue lighting up his home with Christmas lights and displays.
And the public will continue to be blessed with the kindness of a man who makes us smile with wide-eyed wonder at the radiant splendor that celebrates the season.