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Red carpet treatment for VIP night at Winter Wonderland

A Christmas bell adorned with holly and bow made up one of the lighted scenes al

Business sponsors and special guests of Sertoma’s Winter Wonderland experienced a special red carpet event Thursday during the “VIP Preview Evening” at the Northland Arboretum.

Businesses and guests got a sneak peak of the fifth annual lighting display, after walking down a red carpet in the arboretum building while getting their photograph taken. Food and beverages were enjoyed, while they mingled; and then they received a horse carriage tour of the lighting display.

More than 50 sponsors are part of this year’s Sertoma’s Winter Wonderland lighting display. Businesses chose between a one through five star level partnership.

Deb Mitzel of Dondelinger’s said the company has sponsored Winter Wonderland since it began in 2007. Mitzel said Winter Wonderland is a “great community event to be a part of” and it also is an event to feature the arboretum.

Chris and Sally Ford were special guests and Chris helps the arboretum with the accounting, also attended the event.

“We go through it every year,” said Chris Ford. “It’s a family event and the kids love it.”

Sally Ford said that she has been to a similar event in the Twin Cities metro area, and it doesn’t compare to Brainerd Sertoma’s Winter Wonderland.

“This one is much more intimate and quaint as you go through the woods,” said Sally Ford.

Alan and Pat Johnson of Pine River were special guests. Pat Johnson works at Good Samaritan Society, Pine River, a sponsor.

“I’m heavily into Christmas,” said Pat Johnson. “We were here (Winter Wonderland) a few years ago and we’re looking forward to seeing the new displays.”

Denny and Rosy Schanzenbach of rural Brainerd, also special guests, said they enjoy going through the lighting display and it gives them a chance to go through the woods at the arboretum.

“It’s a fun thing to do during the winter,” said Rosy Schanzenbach.

And families in the Brainerd lakes area and beyond will have to wait less than a week to see this year’s lighting display. The event will be open to the public from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, beginning Thanksgiving night and ending Dec. 31. Cost is $10 per vehicle, or $3 off with a coupon available at participating businesses.

Jessica Scott, Winter Wonderland sales and marketing director, said there are more sponsors this year than in the past and there will be more than 80 lighting displays, compared to 70 displays last year. Scott said there will be about a dozen new displays for spectators to see, including the Kids Design display that was created by the Central Lakes College welding class.

Lighting displays will include many different Christmas figures and scenes, including a nativity scene.

The Holiday Village, inside the arboretum, will be open each night for guests to stop by after going through the lighting display. Santa and his elves will be present, as well as hot chocolate and other goodies. Scott said new this year, is the village will become more family friendly and there will be games for the children to play.

“We want people to stop in,” said Scott.

Winter Wonderland will again have its walk-through nights on Dec. 4 and 18, where vehicles will not be allowed in the arboretum for the display and its “Enchanted Evening,” a tiered dinner event sponsored by Prairie Bay, that will be held Dec. 9-10. Tickets for this event can be purchased at Prairie Bay.

In the past four years, Scott said Winter Wonderland has drawn more than 100,000 visitors and has raised about $100,000 that goes back to local charities in the Brainerd lakes area. Scott said charities apply for a grant and then a committee selects which ones will get the funding. Scott said as little as $15 was given to a young boy who was doing a local charity to thousands of dollars given to a non-profit organization. Organizations that have received donations in the past include Bridges of Hope, Brainerd Public Schools Foundation, Ski Gull, Mounted Eagles and Heartland Animal Rescue.

Scott said Sertoma is in need of volunteers to help out with Winter Wonderland. She said it takes six to 14 people to run one nightly event. Scott encourages youth groups or others to volunteer, which can be done online at or by calling 454-lights.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.