ROSSVILLE — Family means everything to Gary and Debbie Kinnett of Rossville. And the amazing Christmas light show they create at their country home each December is just another demonstration of love for their five children and their families.
It’s also amazing that Debbie and Gary never begin working on their elaborate indoor/outdoor Christmas displays until the day after Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday, and we don’t want to pass over it,” Gary said, adding that there were 27 family members at the house for turkey dinner this year.
The couple’s adult children include Alicia Kinnett of Champaign, Emily Kinnett of Rossville, April (Ed) Jones of Hoopeston, John (Becky) Kinnett of Alvin and Jeremy (Amy) Kinnett of Westfield, Ind. They also have eight grandchildren and one on the way.
“We are so fortunate to have everyone healthy,” Debbie said, “and all of our kids have jobs.”
Each year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Kinnett family gears up to string more than 33,000 multicolored lights on their expansive property 4 miles west of Rossville. Instead of using animated figures in their holiday display, they decorate the house, the farm buildings, the trees and most other stationary objects.
“I guarantee if there’s something in our yard that stands still, then we put lights on it,” Debbie said, laughing.
For the first time this year, Gary is taking guesses from family members on the exact number of lights he put out this year — and the winner will receive a cash prize.
Gary accounts for every single light he strings. He also buys new lights every year because the old ones are most likely burned out, or at least faded.
“He’s so fanatical about his lights,” Debbie said. “If a string goes out, even if it’s after 10 at night, Gary will run out and fix them.” Debbie calls herself the Christmas go-fer because she’s always running into town to purchase additional boxes of lights for the display.
“If we see an empty spot, we quickly do something about it and add more lights,” she said, “and Gary tells me we still have more lights to put up this year.”
Their latest idea is to make a lighted “ski slope” that runs from the top of one grain bin to the ground. “Who knows what will come next,” Debbie said.
Gary’s parents always decorated their house in Rossville for Christmas, and during the years he and Debbie would always put up a moderate number of lights. But about six years ago, the couple came up the idea to light up one of their grain bins as an addition to their house display.
“The lights looked so good, and we got so many compliments from people who passed by,” Debbie said. So they forged ahead and decorated a second, and finally a third grain bin.
Gary insists on being the one who climbs to the top of the tall bins to string the lights. “And when he jumps from one bin to another or goes on the roofs, he scares me half to death,” Debbie said.
Her job is to hold the other ends of the strings while her husband positions the lights. “I’m usually freezing my fingers off the whole time,” she said.
Gary has rigged up a 30-foot pole with a coat hanger hook fastened on the end so he can string lights on all the evergreens and trees, as well as on the family truck, tractor, swing set, porch swing, farm auger, bicycle and even the farm combine one year.
Several years ago they designed a huge cross with white lights, using their existing clothesline and poles. Their daughter, Emily, had survived a bad car accident that year, and they erected the cross to thank God for saving her.
This year the Kinnetts have added another feature to their house display — Santa. On many evenings he sits at the edge of the yard and hands out candy canes to children.
Gary is so precise about his work that he keeps track of just how long it takes him to complete each phase of the display He’s already spent 2½ hours setting up more than four dozen 10-foot electrical cords and put in 23½ hours stringing the lights.
Gary and Debbie, who is from Wellington, were married in 1982. With Debbie’s help, Gary has run Kinnett Fleet Maintenance in Rossville since 1981. He also was a broadcaster on WIAI radio for many years and a well-known volunteer in the Rossville community. He was named Rossville Citizen of the Year several years ago for his good works.
Emily and Alicia reminisced about their childhood living in the big, old farmhouse they called home before the family built their current house on the property.
“Even though we were always cold and often huddled around the old wooden stove in the winter, I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” Alicia said.
Alicia is eager to spread the word about her wonderful parents and the light show that they design every Christmas holiday.
“Our parents were always there for us — attending all our school and sports activities,” Alicia said, “and now they’re doing the same for their grandkids.”
This year Debbie has asked Santa for a giant calendar with big squares so she can write down everyone’s day-to-day activities.
“But I really don’t know why she needs it,” Emily said. “Mom never forgets anything.”
Alicia said, “My parents don’t do all of this because they want recognition. They do it because they enjoy it, and they know that people look forward to seeing the lights. Not too many people do this type of thing out of their own pocket just to bring joy to others.”
Debbie and Gary also create a float each year for the Rossville Festival of Lights parade. This year they used a red-and-white candy cane theme.