Brighten Baxter project provides holiday cheer

On the eve of the longest night of the year, a drive through the city neighborhoods is revealing the hard work of holiday decorators who incorporated music, inflatables, thousands of lights and created a perfect way to wrap up 2020, by touring works of art through light by socially distanced vehicles. Fourteen homes participated in the contest.

Christmas decorations at 5132 Camden Road Thursday, Dec. 18, make up one of the displays in the holiday lighting contest in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — On the cusp of the longest night of the year, the project to brighten Baxter is helping to illuminate winter and lighten hearts along the way.

For Connie Lyscio, the Baxter City Council member who brought the idea of a holiday lighting contest, it was exactly the result she hoped would happen.

“There seems to be a really good feeling about it, which was my goal all along,” Lyscio said.

It was difficult for the anonymous group of judges to make a decision to determine the finalists from the group of 14 entrants.


RELATED: City of lights - Baxter ignites holiday lighting contest
Lyscio said the judges all liked something from every house, like the countdown to Christmas displayed on a garage door that will either be joyful or stressful depending on how prepared one is for the fast approaching holiday. Homes included illuminated inflatables, movement with lights and incorporated music — with a home on Memorywood coordinating the lights to the music. Judges touring neighborhoods for the 14 addresses also found many other homes nearby with abundant holiday lights and decorations. For some, the tour of homes will provide an opportunity to drive through neighborhoods they may not have ever visited before.

Map of Baxter lights contest participants

The contest winners are: first place, Richard Shatka, 5132 Camden Road; second place, Nancy Tiegs, 14803 Wildflower Drive; and third place, Joe and Anne Niklaus, 13287 Maplewood Drive.

Lights on 14803 Wildflower Drive in Baxter.

First prize is a $100 credit from Crow Wing Power or Brainerd Public Utilities, second prize is a $75 credit and third prize is a $50 credit — all on the January residential energy bill.

RELATED: Lighting up Christmas: The quick fix for broken light sets
Contest entries were judged by an anonymous committee on a point system as they viewed the entries curbside. Categories for judging were: first impression, 25 points; design, 20 points; and originality, 20 points.

Joe and Anne Niklaus have been decorating for 37 years and put up decorations with inflatables and lights for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Fourth of July. Recently their inflatable turkeys were notable for Thanksgiving.


RELATED: Happy Thanksgiving to all!
“I just like lights,” Joe Niklaus said. He questioned whether to keep doing it at their home of 21 years on Maplewood Drive after some pumpkins were stolen. But people told them the displays brought them so much joy, they kept at it. And this year they’ve seen more lights around the area and the depleted light supplies at store shelves point to increased interest, Joe Niklaus said, whether that’s COVID-19 related or just the season.

Since they were going to decorate either way, they thought the contest could provide an option to give their prize energy credit to a family that may be struggling to pay their bill this season.

Illuminated inflatables, dangling icicle lights and projection lights are all part of the Maplewood Drive display. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“That brought tears to my eyes,” Lyscio said. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness if that’s not the holiday spirit, I don’t know what is.’”

Tiegs noted a Christmas Light scavenger hunt can add to the fun of visiting the various locations.

For winner Richard Shatka, 5132 Camden Road, the monthlong effort to decorate for Christmas is a labor of love that started when he was 15 on the family dairy farm. Sixty-two years later and he is still decorating with lights and figures, inflatables, color, movement and music. Nicknamed Mr. Christmas when he lived on Graydon Avenue in Brainerd, Shatka said that location was magical during the holidays.

When they downsized to move to a townhome, he sold two trailer loads of his decorations. After 10 years of constraints of townhome living, the Shatkas moved to Camden Road. They’ve been there six years now with new decorations, most updated with energy efficient LED lights. Last year, an inflatable unicorn was added to the delight of one of his granddaughters.


The lights, motion and multiple displays at Camden Road provide multiple areas of interest in a visual feast of holiday lights and displays. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Even with his extensive and exuberant display that can carve out a smile on a passerby as soon as they set their eyes on his creation, Shatka still has decorations in reserve. But this largely snowless and warm late fall season made for ideal decorating conditions. A lantern in the driveway stands out along with a twinkling snowman and a lifesize Santa and Mrs. Claus. Santa hails from department store dancing days and now is about 25 years old.

Shatka said he was just decorating as he always does. Neighbors and even people he didn’t know would stop and encourage him to enter Baxter’s lighting contest. At age 77 this month, Shatka begins decorating in October. Now using a cane, he said it takes him a little long, maybe a month to get everything in place.

He missed decorating for Halloween this year with the coronavirus but threw all that energy into Christmas.

Lights on 13830 Travine Drive in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“Basically it’s for the love of people,” he said, noting the joy he sees in the faces of children who visit. He said since his days with Sherwin Williams he always liked people. Connect that with his own joy at the holidays and the magic of transforming into a Christmas house was a natural progression. So much so that leaving the confines of the townhome for the quiet Camden neighborhood, where he can walk and bike, was a desired change to allow for a new opportunity to light up the winter night.


“I was surprised at the contest,” Shatka said. “I think it’s a fun thing because of this year with the COVID, people are looking for things they can do that won’t put them in danger and getting in their car and going around and looking — it’s a beautiful thing to do for them. A night out with family, keeping family close. It’s just fun to watch the kids’ eyes, what they say, what they think. They are fun.”

Tiegs’ light display on Wildflower Drive is her first in her new house. She moved with her family to Baxter just three months ago and is celebrating her first Christmas there. But decorating was something they enjoyed in Wisconsin. She may be recently remembered for her incredible carved pumpkin display at Halloween.

RELATED: Halloweird: Locals get creative for unusual 2020 holiday
In Wisconsin, they were able to transform their brown house into a gingerbread house. Tiegs said they are still settling into the bigger space and larger home. She made the balls of light displayed on the home and said a lot of her decorations are handmade. In her previous home, she enjoyed being able to talk to people on the sidewalk, share ideas of decorations and help them with what they wanted to do at their own homes. It was fun to interact with people.

Lights on 14104 Inglewood Drive in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“We do it because we really enjoy it and it’s fun to watch people go by and look,” she said.

Tiegs said they came to Baxter after she retired from 35 years of teaching, looking for a community with lakes, business and shopping amenities.

She just happened to see Baxter was having a lighting contest on social media.


“We’ve already been talking about what we’d like to offer next year,” she said.

She noted in Wisconsin, a group of people went to look at each display and then created a scavenger hunt using items on display at the homes. It encouraged more people to get out and see the houses on the list.

“It’s just kind of fun to get people out,” Tiegs said.

Tiegs isn’t the only one thinking ahead to 2021.

Lights on 13824 Flintwood Drive in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Next winter is already on Lyscio’s mind as well.

“I’m so tickled by the whole thing,” she said, adding there could be options to have a challenge between cities, with the contest raising canned goods for food shelves.


“This is just the first step I hope it gets bigger every year,” she said, noting she was glad to have this as a project. “If we get a dog park in Baxter, then I’ll really feel I did something great.”

Tour of holiday homes

A number of homes are grouped in an area to make it easier to tour. Checking them out on the map before heading out is a tip to make the trip work with even limited time or try it on two separate nights.

  • 5132 Camden Road
  • 14803 Wildflower Drive
  • 13287 Maplewood Drive
  • 14285 Forest Drive
  • 14104 Inglewood Drive
  • 14201 Memorywood Drive
  • 14114 Memorywood Drive
  • 5158 Cottage Grove Terrace
  • 13830 Travine Drive
  • 6055 Cosmos Road
  • 5311 Birchdale Lane
  • 12666 Noble Fir Drive
  • 13824 Flintwood Drive
  • 12164 Forestview Drive

Nancy Tiegs, one of the three winners of the contest, provided a Christmas light scavenger hunt to add to the fun as people visit the locations.

Renee Richa rdson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads