BY LEANN DILBECK
The City of Mena and its visitors have been enjoying the elaborate Christmas Lights of Janssen Park for 18 years now but few may know the history of how the extensive display found its way here.
On any given night following the 19th official lighting of the park in early December, cars are seen steadily streaming up and around the circle to view the spectacular display. It was through the work of Mena native and former Mena City Clerk/Treasurer Regina Walker that the display became a reality in 1996.
Jennings Osborne, the man who, in 1995, had the huge and yet controversial display of Christmas lights at his home in Little Rock made the decision to “downsize” and share it with communities throughout Arkansas.
Jennings was a personal friend of one of Walker’s brothers, and he had ties to Mena, so Walker approached him about Mena being one of the Christmas display sites and he was delighted. Jennings brought in an extraordinary display and he had a crew that brought the components in, working with the City of Mena Parks Department. The City of Mena made the necessary electrical upgrades to handle the large capacity of electricity needed.
For the first “official lighting,” Jennings wanted to do something very special for the people of Mena and facilitated bringing the real “Mickey and Minnie” from Disney World to serve as the grand marshals for the annual Christmas Parade. Jennings paid for their transportation and wages, besides an elaborate $25,000 spectacular fireworks display.
Jennings also provided frames and lights for additional figures for the display, which led to a continued effort for the following two years of assembling frames, adding lights to them and expanding the holiday display.
Each year since then, the Mena Parks Department has created and designed their own displays to add to the park. Their crews have to begin work in late October and early November each year to assemble the thousands of twinkling lights.
The Mena Advertising & Promotion Commission began sponsoring the fireworks display and has combined the parade and park activities into an annual Christmas Festival that local residents and tourists can look forward to each December.
This year, the parade and festival have been moved up to accomodate for the Mena Bearcats State Semifinal game, which is to be played in Mena. The annual parade, Grand Marshaled by Gar Eisele, will begin at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 5, followed by the Lighting Ceremony and Fireworks Display in Janssen Park at 6 p.m. Santa Claus and Arkansas’ Holiday Hog will also be in attendance.