Public invited to tour Fantasy of Lights

December 22, 2020

One of the favorite activities for area families during the holiday season is driving through the Fantasy of Lights Christmas display in Foundation Park. This annual Centralia event began the night before Thanksgiving and runs through January 1, from dusk until 11:00 p.m.

Paul and Vera Stover, started making the traditional Christmas display scenery in 1952 as an entry into a community display contest, which they won. They won the next two years as well and the tradition had begun. Through the years the display has grown from a few pieces on the front lawn of the old Robnett home (aka park house), to present day that includes thousands of lights, a 40’ tall star and over 200 hand-painted pieces that encircle the 1/3 mile drive.

The “Fantasy of Lights” began in 2003 with a proposal to decorate the beautiful Foundation Park in Christmas lights. The park has over 200 acres of woodlands and it is not utilized a lot during the winter months.
The plan was presented to the Centralia Foundation Board and a compromise was reached. At the board’s suggestion, the Robnett section, in the northwest corner of Foundation Park, was decorated. It also was decided by the board that this would be for the enjoyment of all at no charge.

This section included the old Stover home, now occupied by the Sachtleben family. The house and grounds had been decorated in years past, but had not been decorated for some time. Since 2003 was the 60th anniversary of the Centralia Foundation, the family and the Foundation Board expressed a desire to “resurrect” the decorating of this section of the park.

The Sachtleben family and the staff of The Centralia Recreation Complex worked together in this endeavor. The old wooden family “flats” were repainted by Stephanie Sachtleben and, with the Foundation’s monetary support, the Recreation Complex staff purchased additional lights and “flat” decorations such as a hot air balloon, a train, stars, a Ferris wheel, and more. All the newly purchased “flat” decorations had to have lights attached to them. The Complex staff worked diligently to accomplish this. Much time was spent by the Complex staff and the Sachtlebens to get everything in place by Thanksgiving night.

The “Fantasy of Lights” was such a success (over 7,300 cars and buses drove through the area) it was decided by the Foundation Board to decorate the same area in 2004. Through donations and the board’s continued monetary support, more scenes were purchased, decorated and set up. Over 55,000 lights were used. All the work, again, was done by volunteers, the Sachtlebens and the Centralia Recreation Complex staff.

By the time 2005 rolled in, the Complex staff, with the Foundation Board’s approval and encouragement, was ready to tackle decorating the Bowl area of Foundation Park. It was decided to enter and exit on Route 161 East, near the South Central Transit Building. Again, through donations, many animated, as well as still, scenes were purchased.

The public is invited to drive through Foundation Park and enjoy the annual “Fantasy of Lights” display again this year. And as in years past, it promises to delight children from 2 to 102, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Sachtleben family and their helpers, and the Centralia Recreational Complex staff, volunteers, and Director Sonya German.

Pictured is a map of the route for the Christmas displays in Foundation Park and two photos taken from the early years and with a little paint and TLC, they are still being used.