In the days when Jack Yoast's front yard was a light-free zone, the Upper Dublin businessman would cruise the suburbs for holiday-decorating inspiration.
Houses on Terwood Road in Willow Grove and nearby Joel Drive were the kind of shimmering spectacles that made his then-10-year-old daughter, Kelly, beam from the car.
One day, Yoast thought, he'd have his own light show.
Yoast, who co-owns a business telecommunications firm with brother Mike, has turned his front lawn into an incandescent corner of Upper Dublin Township where children and their parents stop to gaze at glowing depictions of Santas, penguins, fire-breathing dragons, and the baby Jesus.
Called the "Light Up a Life" display, it's the Yoast brothers' way of offering a bit of Christmas cheer to the community that has helped make their Acteon Networks business a success.
The moving, blinking, music-accompanied light show also serves as a way to raise money for local nonprofits. Visitors to the Montgomery County display make donations, and each year all proceeds benefit one or two local charities. This year, donations go to the Friends of Robbins Park, an environmental education center in Ambler, and the Fort Washington Volunteer Fire Company.
"I like to keep it local," Jack Yoast said. "I think it has more of an impact."
'Positive things to do'
Yoast's holiday lights are displayed in what he calls scenes. There's a Nativity scene, and jumping dolphins. There's a menorah and a lighted "Feliz Navidad."
The display is accompanied by songs coming out of 15 speakers around the property. Visitors are as likely to hear "Silent Night" as "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."
Every night, the lights are switched on at 5:15 p.m. and off at 9 (Friday and Saturday at 9:45). Black Friday is the first day, New Year's Eve the last.
"This gives you positive things to do with your children," said Tyreese Burton, who visited Wednesday night with his 7-year-old daughter, Brianna, and her classmates from the Shady Grove After School Program. "It brings people in the neighborhood together. You get to meet your neighbors."
The huge display requires more than just putting up the lights and turning them on.
In Upper Dublin, the light show is considered a "large event" that requires a permit and the services of a certified electrician to ensure safety, said Deputy Chief Lee Benson of the Upper Dublin police.
Crowds sometimes grow so large that traffic backs up.
The Yoasts and crew members Gary Wyatt and Jay Rejniak work outside nightly helping people to park, cross the street, and keep neighbors' driveways clear.
"We've only had one complaint this year so far," Benson said. In the first few years, police received more, he said.
"This is bigger than your next-door neighbor putting up a few extra lights," Benson said. So police try to balance the right of neighbors to privacy and quiet with Jack Yoast's right to put up the lights, Benson said.
Yoast and his crew start decorating in October.
(Only a few lights stay up year round for Memorial Day and July Fourth displays.)
Likes to give back
This year, Yoast has added portable toilets, because so many people ask to use his restroom and one person once relieved himself on the family deck.
Yoast's wife, Judy, sighs a bit when asked about each year's production. "All I can say is that it's his baby. He likes to give back to the community," Judy Yoast said.
Her husband is worried about this year's effort.
The short shopping season has reduced the number of display days, and snow has forced him to keep the lights off on several nights. So far, he has raised about $2,000 for charity. Last year at this time, he'd already raised $5,800.
"It's frustrating," Yoast said. "We may sell T-shirts" to help the bottom line."
Also, he plans Santa visits, distribution of free candy canes, and free Mini Melts ice cream treats donated by the Connecticut firm.
On New Year's Day, the lawn will go dark, and the Yoast brothers and their crew will start taking down lights from trees and pulling up stakes from what could be a frozen ground.
It's those days when Yoast thinks he may have gone a little "crazy" with the decorations.
He's considering scaling back on any new lighting additions but not because of any Christmas-decorating fatigue, Yoast said, but "because we've run out of room."
BY THE NUMBERS
Christmas lights in Jack Yoast's front-yard display
added to Yoast's electric bill every December
visitors each year
loudspeakers blare holiday music
has been raised for charity so far