Rotary Lights president helping light up Riverside Park for 25th year

Twenty-five years ago, Riverside Park became a winter wonderland for the first time ever.

“No one would’ve thought that was with me 25 years ago that Rotary Lights would become and build itself into one of the icons of the Midwest,” Rotary Lights president Pat Stephens said.

It all started with a conversation about an Oklahoma baptist college’s decorations between Stephens and a former colleague.

“He said ‘you know, we should have something like that here in La Crosse,” Stephens said. ‘”Who could help with this?'”

Stephens’ next move:

“I raised my hand and the rest is history,” Stephens said.

And he’s been president of Rotary Lights for a quarter of a century.

“If it’s good for the community and people really want it, I’d like to be part of that as well,” Stephens said.

Rotary Lights is a holiday tradition held once a year the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve.

Over the years, Stephens has been responsible for overseeing new decorations to the park and now his vision is growing.

“Over the last three and a half months, we’ve had a team that has put together a 50 foot animated Christmas tree that is gonna sit on top of Grandad’s Bluff,” Stephens said.

“It’ll be nice and bright for everybody,” Stephens said.

It will stay there for each season.

“It is magnificent,” Stephens said. “It’s gonna just be a wonderful, wonderful addition.”

Stephens says Rotary Lights has caught on with the people beyond La Crosse.

“(People) happen to stay in La Crosse overnight and they discover Rotary Lights, and then they say ‘well, I’m bringing my whole family back here,'” Stephens said. ‘”This is wonderful. We don’t have anything like this.'”

It is a spectacle for the kids.

“I walk the park all the time and it’s just fun to hear ‘daddy this’ and ‘daddy that’ all over the park with the little kids,” Stephens said. “They’re enthralled.”

And it is Stephens’ passion is what keeps this tradition going.

“When I’m no longer able to help with it, it leads to the next generation,” Stephens said.

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