Christmas lighting group wants to make Tranquility Island glow

George Eychner, current president of the Kerrville Christmas Lighting Corporation would like to see more shining decorations especially in downtown Kerrville; and will lead a July 2 meeting at 4 p.m. on Tranquility Island to discuss ideas. Bring a lawn chair.

Area residents who would like to see more Christmas lights around Kerrville during the Yule season can join a group of volunteers who have some big ideas for the coming December.

The Kerrville Christmas Lighting Committee members now hope to shift their efforts from the County Courthouse to lighting as many of the trees on Tranquility Island as possible.

Current President George Eychner said this group will have an outdoor (and socially distanced) meeting on Thursday, July 2, on Tranquility Island, to examine in person the area they hope to decorate, and discuss the options and needs to make it happen.

That brainstorming meeting will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday in the downtown park.

The Kerr County Women’s Chamber volunteers have for many years erected a Christmas display at the downstream end of the island between the bridges and the River Trail.

KCLC members hope to extend those lights by raising funds to have electrical power installed from the Lemos Street bridge to the foot bridges and then have the many trees along the River Trail on the island be lighted.

Last week Eychner said they so far have an estimate of $200,000 to install underground electrical connections on the island.

“We started out thinking big, but we weren’t counting on COVID-19,” Eychner said.

And he added one of their board members also wants to improve the holiday welcome at the intersection of State Highway 16 and Interstate 10 for drivers coming into town.

The current board members are Eychner, president; Stephen Fine, vice-president; Shawna Farenthold, immediate past treasurer; Austin Kuhn, current treasurer; Rose Bradshaw, Women’s Chamber representative; Jan Lynch, Bill Rector and Paul Stafford.

Liaison members on the board are Allison Bueche, Kerrville Public Utility Board; Ashlea Boyle, City of Kerrville representative; Jonathan Letz, Kerr County representative; Charlie McIlvain, Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Sydney Blain, Chamber of Commerce representative.

Boyle is the main person on this board who has a say in these new plans, Eychner said, as Tranquility Island is part of the city’s Louise Hays Park.

Eychner estimates installation of the electrical service would take about a month once they have the money in hand. And in years past, the KCLC has set themselves a deadline of September to finalize plans and funding for each year’s Christmas displays.

Now, once again, they need enthusiastic volunteers and community donations to brighten up the next Yule holiday.

History of KCLC

George Eychner and Beverly Bond provided the following history of the local effort to light up Kerrville for Christmas, as recalled by former KCLC board members.

About 1995, several community leaders - Jim Murphy, Gene Lehman, and Commissioner Bill Williams - took on a mission to enhance the Christmas lighting on and around the Kerr County Courthouse.

Prior to that time, some decorations across Main Street for several blocks were installed to dress up the city for the holidays.

According to the recollections of several who were involved, the decorations were lost in a storage building fire. Thanks to the kindness of community neighbors in Fredericksburg, they shared some decorations they no longer were using so Kerrville would have at least some decorations.

Those decorations were displayed for several years, but ultimately became unusable. The cost to replace them was not in the city budget, nor did other organizations have the funds to purchase new ones.

Sometime in the 1990s, the Courthouse Square Christmas decorating was spearheaded by the same concerned citizens, Murphy, Lehman and Williams.

Fundraising and donations from community businesses funded the purchase of lights and supplies.

Community volunteers worked to wrap tree trunks, light poles, and string lights on the courthouse building.

For several years, the Women’s Chamber coordinated the volunteers and decorating.

Following the Women’s Chamber’s involvement, it was determined a Board of Directors should be formed to take on the Christmas lighting project of raising money, enhancing the decorations, and recruiting volunteers.

The board formed a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in July 2000 called the Kerrville Christmas Lighting Corporation (KCLC) to manage the funds received and organize volunteers to do the work.

Several members of the Women’s Chamber served on the board for many years along with others who shared the passion to see this community shine for Christmas.

“The KCLC was active for nearly 20 years with various leaders elected to serve as board president to make sure our community would glow with the spirit of Christmas,” Eychner said. “It was a year-long effort to raise funds, plan the electrical grid, pay for additional electrical power installations, as well as purchase lights and displays.”

And the local Rotary Clubs were instrumental in raising the funds to purchase the large lighted decorated Christmas tree that stands each Christmas on the corner of the Courthouse lawn, a holiday icon that also has been added to, to make it taller than original.

Jim Murphy, Walter Schellhasse, Kyle Bond, Lee Howard, and Bill Amerine, were some of the presidents of the KCLC Board over the years.

Several years ago (about 2016) the KCLC Board agreed to partner with the Cailloux Foundation.

In 2017, the Cailloux Foundation in Kerrville took over the Courthouse decorating effort fully. The Kerr County and KPUB staff provide labor and leadership as well.

Eychner said former KCLC President Kyle Bond proposed disbanding the KCLC organization following the change in the courthouse decorating from the KCLC to the Cailloux Foundation, saying the KCLC had not had a “mission” for two years.

But Eychner asked him to hold off while he convened a group of local leaders to see if they could repurpose it to be the nonprofit funding agency to support decorating Kerrville at Christmas and other holidays.

Their new ideas include appropriate colored lights downtown for other holidays besides Christmas, though that is not a certain part of the plans at this point.

“Our first project we hope to support is the lighting of the trees on Tranquility Island. We intend to raise enough money to have waterproof electrical power installed wherever needed to support the city Parks & Recreation initiative to install LED ‘up and down’ lights on the trees along the river,” Eychner said.

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