Rotary Lights opens for first time without long time volunteer

It has been a tradition for more than 20 years. The day after Thanksgiving, Riverside Park in downtown La Crosse turns in to a winter wonderland with the lighting of the annual Rotary Lights.

It’s the 21st edition of the display, but the first without long time volunteer Hank Fillner, who died this spring. To honor and thank him for his years of dedication to Rotary Lights, the 2015 display is dedicated to Fillner.

Friday night, his two daughters were in La Crosse to flip the switch and light up Riverside Park.

It was always the giving season for Fillner.

His daughters, Lyne Motylinski and Dina Blummer, remember their father as a compassionate, loving man, who enjoyed giving back to his community.

“My dad was always a caregiver. From (when I was) little on, I remember him taking care of other people,” Motylinski said.

“Dad was really great about listening, and if there was a need, Dad pitched in,” Blummer said.

Every winter for the past 20 years, people could find Fillner in Riverside Park, helping light up the holiday season as a volunteer at Rotary Lights. He had two main jobs. He was in charge of putting up the 120-foot tall Christmas tree that welcomes visitors into the park.

“The tree was his pride and joy. Getting that put together, getting it set up so everyone could see it was so amazing,” Motylinski said.

Fillner’s second task was taking care of his “kids,” the reindeer.

“Every morning and every night for the time that they are here, he would be the one who feed them and watered them and took care of them. He became very close to them. It was always fun to watch him work with the deer,” Blummer said.

“Once in a while, he would run across a few young people, and they would, of course, ask about the deer. They were curious about that, and they would ask where Rudolph was, of course, and Dad always had a great answer for that, that Rudolph was needed at the North Pole until Christmas Eve,” Motylinski said.

Motylinski and Blummer said their father was a quiet man who didn’t care for the limelight, so they said he’s probably a little embarrassed about being honored at this year Rotary Lights. But for the man who dedicated so much of his life to giving, it’s finally time for him to receive the recognition he deserves.

“He put his heart and soul into this. He was so proud of what the Rotary Lights represented in the community and the friends he had in the community. Being here to represent him tonight is going to be so fantastic,” Motylinski said.

Rotary Lights is now open every day through the end of the year. It’s free to walk or drive through the park, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation of either cash or food to help stock food pantries in the area.