Brighten Baxter hopes to inspire neighborhoods with holiday light

Entries are due by Dec. 15. Those interested in participating can mail their information to the Brainerd Dispatch, 506 James St., Brainerd, MN, 56401, email, or drop their information — name, address and contact information with Baxter Lighting Contest noted — in the Dispatch drop box, which is accessed by the alleyway next to the building at 506 James St.

An outdoors Christmas display in Baxter.
Nancy Tiegs, on Wildflower Drive in Baxter, took first place in the 2021 Brighten Baxter holiday lighting contest.
Matt Erickson / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — The nights are long, the air is crisp, and Christmas is around the corner.

What better way to enjoy the onset of winter and the holiday season than adding lights to the darkness. And in Baxter, that means an opportunity to join the community effort to brighten the city for the holidays as the Brighten Baxter effort returns for the third year.

The Brighten Baxter holiday lighting contest ignited in 2020 during the pandemic. Baxter City Council member Connie Lyscio was decorating her own home when she thought of the idea of getting the community involved, especially at a time when people needed an outlet both as an activity at home and a way to have a family outing. Lyscio spoke of her own memories of loading up the family vehicle and going out to see the light displays around town.

“It’s a fond memory and now in these days of trying to come up with activities that are family friendly and COVID safe, I thought this could be perfect,” Lyscio said in 2020.

With the city council’s blessing and the help of Crow Wing Power and Brainerd Public Utilities, who gave winners a break on their electric bill, the lighting contest began and inspired a host of applicants and countless tours in early December. Those tours found many houses with exceptional lighting displays that were not officially part of the contest. Driving around Baxter neighborhoods for the tour was a discovery of side streets and unexpected treats of lighted neighborhoods.


This year, Lyscio said she hopes people inspire their neighbors to light up for bragging rights as the Brightest Block in Baxter. The effort could create swaths of holiday cheer infused neighborhoods. The bright Baxter blocks would be an unofficial part of the contest but one that could snowball into more people taking part in both big and small ways to light up the winter nights. Lyscio also hopes people enter the contest to make a robust tour of lights this year.

Richard Shatka, who is approaching his 79th birthday, said his limited ability to get around — especially if the area has a lot of snow — meant curtailing his expansive light displays to a smaller setting this year but he added a tree that has 31 different settings and even waves at his house on Camden Road in Baxter.

Shatka was the winner of the first Brighten Baxter contest and was the second place entry in 2021.

Holiday lights around a home.
Richard Shatka from Camden Road had large colorful displays in 2021 with many things of interest to see in his holiday display, which came in second in Brighten Baxter.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Capturing fire in those little bulbs has been something Shatka said he’s enjoyed since he was a teenager. He started decorating as a 16-year-old on the dairy farm.

“I haven’t missed a year yet,” he said.

Shatka’s light displays, when he previously lived on Graydon Avenue in Brainerd, brought out people from around the area, even in bus loads. He said the displays took a month to set up and he mixed his own colors to get the desired shades he wanted and painted the bulbs. He recalled getting four hours of sleep a night to get everything done, including working on decorations around the city and downtown Brainerd.

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Shatka saw a display of a fireplace in lights on a farm near Springfield and bought the display. He said he later helped the artisan sell the decorations he made to area businesses here showing them photos of the displays that sold themselves, he said. He kept his lighting tradition going when he moved to Baxter.

He added to his own collection and then technology raised the bar even more with brighter lights, greater energy efficiency and lots of action. Shatka said it was fun to take part in the Brighten Baxter contest and he enjoyed seeing the numbers of people drive by to see his light displays.


“It’s a lot of LED and so bright and gorgeous and they do so many things,” he said.

For Shatka, the work behind the scenes to set up and maintain displays was worth it for the joy it created during what can be a bleak time of year of cold and snow.

‘It’s pretty and I like it and it’s even prettier in the eyes of children,” Shatka said.

Shatka said his mobility now makes adding inflatables, which have to be shoveled out after a snowfall, and maintaining elaborate yard displays too difficult, but he appreciates the city having a lighting contest as an encouragement to others and a way to highlight those who put that time and effort into decorating for themselves and their community.

Nancy Tiegs, on Wildflower Drive, was the Brighten Baxter contest winner in 2021 . Tiegs said setting up the displays takes about five hours every day for a week or two. She purchases some items and makes others. After last year’s win, she was already planning for 2022 with ideas of adding cutout figures to create a different perspective.

Of the contest this year, Tiegs just said she loves to put up lights. She’s added a big train with an engine, two cars and caboose. Her woodland figures are carrying ornaments to decorate the tree. She’s added Rudolph and his girlfriend Clarice. And she is in the process of making more trees to go in the yard.

Tiegs said she plans to make a Paul Bunyan and Babe for the yard this year as well. After an early snow and then cold weather, the recent mild days helped with decorating.

“I like doing it because I like looking at it myself but I also like watching people look at it. It’s fun watching people drive by and slow down and look and it’s not just kids, adults come by and want to look as well.”


An entry form for Brighten Baxter
Entries are due by Dec. 15.<br/><br/><br/>

Contest specifics

Entries are due by Dec. 15.

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.

Contest entries will be judged by an anonymous committee on a point system as they view the entry via curbside. Categories for judging are: first impression — 25 points; design — 20 points; originality — 20 points.

Judging will take place Dec. 19 with the winner announced Dec. 20. Employees and elected officials in the city of Baxter are not eligible.

Entries can be mailed, dropped off, or emailed to the Brainerd Dispatch.

Those interested in entering the contest, should mail their information to the Brainerd Dispatch, 506 James St., Brainerd, MN, 56401, email , or drop their information — name, address and contact information with Baxter Lighting Contest noted — in the Dispatch drop box, which is accessed by the alleyway next to the building at 506 James St.

Renee Richardson, 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.
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