Winter Lights Festival marks 35th year, pays tribute to its founder
BEATRICE – For the 35th year, the holiday lights at the historic Gage County Courthouse came on Sunday night for the first time this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Despite a persistent rain that moved the ceremony just inside the second-floor entrance, several people stood outside to watch the lights come on. This year’s ceremony was a tribute to its founder….J.T. Thornburgh….who just recently passed away.
Following a chamber of commerce effort that generated initial business donations…Beatrice Mayor Bob Morgan noted that more than three decades ago, Thornburgh spearheaded the project largely through his own money and initiative.
"Eight thousand dollars was donated to the committee by forty businesses and organizations...and the county agreed to pay for the electricity. J.T. Thornburgh was asked about decorating some trees on the courthouse lawn, and his response was, well maybe there's a way we can light the entire courthouse. So after a hundred-plus hours of labor and donation of materials from Mr. Thornburgh to rewire the courthouse and to be able to post the lights....and with the help of Lloyd and Shawn VanLaningham...there were lights on the roofline and tower. The next year, the second floor was done...and today, the courthouse sports more than four miles of wire and more than thirty thousand lights."
The winter lights festival is now coordinated by a special committee and operates on private donations.
The Homestead Harmonizers provided holiday music for the occasion, singing just inside the second-floor entrance. Thornburgh’s family members helped Santa Claus throw the switch to the holiday lights and provided hot chocolate for those attending the ceremony. Afterward, kids could meet with Santa Claus to receive bags of treats.