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Thanksgiving at Christmas

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BAY LAKE — What started as a way to celebrate Christmas with their Bay Lake neighbors about 14 years ago has turned into a community outreach of holiday spirit.

Louie and Maridee Smilich start decorating their yard for Christmas in October and the light show is switched on for the first night of the season after Thanksgiving. The nightly light shows end on New Year’s Day.

Days before Thanksgiving this year, Louie Smilich suffered a heart attack, although he didn’t realize it was a heart attack.

Smilich, 75, was feeling as if he had indigestion. Then his arm began to hurt. When the pain began to spread across his chest, his wife Maridee forced him to go to see a doctor at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center. He was then airlifted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in the Twin Cities where it was found that one of his main arteries had 99 percent blockage. Another artery had 90 percent blockage and another had 50 percent blockage. Specialists implanted a stent for the worst blockage and he’ll return for possibly two more stents in January.

“You think it can’t happen to me and all of a sudden, it does,” Smilich said. “And your mind goes through all sorts of things. It’s a wake up call. You do a lot of thinking. There’s a lot to be thankful for this year.”

The couple, with help from their neighbor, Ron Hawkins, had already put up most of the Christmas light show in October but there are a few things that might have to wait until next year.

Still, the hillside leading to their home in the Knieff Shores Acres community home park is a winter wonderland of glowing light. The couple has about 150 lighted holiday creations and 40 lighted trees on display. They welcome people to pass by and check it out. About nine of their neighbors also decorate for Christmas. The idea began when Judy Knieff made Christmas wooden cutouts that she put on display in the park.

Smilich said he and his wife collect lighted holiday decorations throughout the year, whenever they see something that interests them. Once they were in Montana buying a Bobcat and brought home with them a lighted Santa, who rode home to Minnesota in the cab of the Bobcat, which entertained many motorists they passed by along the way home, they said.

The couple has 10 sets of timers that go off each night. Smilich is always making adjustments and repairs on the light show. The squirrels and rabbits enjoy eating through the wiring and last year’s ice storm caused damage to several decorations with moving gears.

They have received thank you cards from people who stop each year to see the light show.

“We love Christmas and we love doing it and we just got kind of carried away,” Maridee Smilich said with a laugh.

To view the Smilich family light show, take Highway 6 two miles east of Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, then east to County Road 10 and south about one-quarter mile to Knieff Shores Acres, No. 10E.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.