Archive for Monday, December 22, 2003

Wichita couple use holiday lights to honor U.S. service members

December 22, 2003


— A Wichita couple's annual patriotic Christmas-light display expanded this year to honor their nephew in the Middle East.

Shirley and Mel Zandler typically decorate their home in west Wichita's Sterling Farms neighborhood with 8,000 lights each Christmas, Mel Zandler said.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, they added a 735-square-foot U.S. flag made from 39 strings of lights that contains 3,900 bulbs.

With the country at war and their nephew Greg, a 27-year-old Air Force captain, in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, they decided to do it again.

"It just seemed like it was time for some patriotism," Shirley Zandler said.

This year the couple added blue Christmas lights that spell out "Thanx" and a sign that says "Greg USAF Qatar" to the display.

It is their way of showing appreciation for members of the armed forces -- including their nephew -- who are overseas.

"I'm very thankful for the efforts that those kids are doing over there," Shirley Zandler said. "It's a hard job, and we should all be very thankful to be American."

The flag wasn't something they just tossed together.

Mel Zandler, a Wichita State University chemistry professor and self-proclaimed perfectionist, said that would have driven him crazy.

So he used graph paper to map out two versions of the flag -- seven times the size of most U.S. flags -- before the couple went to work putting it up.

Shirley Zandler spent hours installing metal stakes under every third bulb to elevate the flag a couple of inches off the ground.

"It involves a lot of crawling on the grass," she said. "It's pretty involved."

Mel Zandler used a ruler to make sure the result reflected his plan.

"It's pretty second nature," he said. "I'm kind of known for my detail."

The Zandlers have since seen trolleys on light tours ring their bells in approval, limousines slow to a crawl as they pass and fans use tripods and cameras to take photos of their flag.

They hope it helps others remember what U.S. troops are sacrificing while people at home are enjoying the holidays.

"Patriotism is alive and well in Wichita," Shirley Zandler said. "That's what we're trying to say."

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