Archive for Friday, December 3, 2010

Lawrence man’s extreme passion for Christmas illuminates the whole neighborhood

Lawrence resident Zachary Stoltenberg puts a little Christmas spirit in his light display along with a little music.

December 3, 2010, 12:41 p.m. Updated December 3, 2010, 1:49 p.m.



4530 Larissa Drive Christmas Light Display

2010 Sneak Peak from Zachary Stoltenberg on Vimeo.

The Light Up Lawrence display at 4530 Larissa Drive is a total of 20 minutes. This video is a sneak peak of about 10 minutes of the display. Zach Stoletenberg, who owns the house and put the display together, is raising money for St. Jude's from people who come to check out his lights.

This file photo from 2010 shows the holiday display of Lawrence resident Zach Stoltenberg, who set over 10,000 LED lights to music.

This file photo from 2010 shows the holiday display of Lawrence resident Zach Stoltenberg, who set over 10,000 LED lights to music.

For a good cause

Zach Stoltenberg and another man at his office were known as the guys who did the crazy Christmas lights. Then, in March, his coworker’s son was diagnosed with Pontine Glioma, a type of cancer that is inoperable because it fuses to the brain stem.

The family went to Memphis for six months to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment.

Stoltenberg said that after having his lights up last year, he thought they could be more than just decorations.

This year, Stoltenberg has a box in front of his display for donations to St. Jude’s. He hopes to reach $500, but would love to get more.

Stoltenberg said people can drop donations off in the box or mail them to his house, 4530 Larissa Dr. He said another option is to mail donations straight to the hospital or donate online through the hospital’s website.

Friends through lights

When Zach Stoltenberg first met Gary Martin, he was just learning how to animate Christmas lights. Martin, who is now in his third year of animated light displays, is known for his display at 1132 Parkside Circle.

Martin is a computer engineer who says he’s always dabbled in electronics, and he loves programming the lights for his house.

“I’ve been a Christmas light nut forever,” he said.

Martin grew up in Atchison in an area where every house for three square blocks was covered in lights.

“My childhood was full of very elaborate Griswold-ness,” he said.

This year, he’s rolled out a new 25-foot-tall tree made of LED lights. His display is significantly larger than Stoltenberg’s, with almost 40,000 lights and 10 songs, all to give something back to the community.

“A lot of people these days don’t bother with lights at all,” he said. “I’m trying to promote the idea of lighting up for the season and spreading the cheer around.”

Zach Stoltenberg moved furniture into his new house on a corner lot with his wife, Alicia, on Nov. 7. The very next day, he started putting Christmas lights up on the house. In fact, he had his holiday light display figured out before the house even was built.

Three weeks later, the Stoltenbergs had a fully animated light display made of 10,000 LED lights, coordinated with 20 minutes of holiday music. The display, which is on from 6 p.m. to midnight every night, is much more than a holiday pastime for Zach.

“It’s a hobby. I do it all year,” the 27-year-old said. “It’s what I do for fun. I don’t ever want to make money off it.”

This year is the first for the display at their new house at 4530 Larissa Drive, but the second year of an animated display. Passersby can tune into 98.7 FM on their radios and listen to the music the lights are timed to. Also new this year is the fundraising Zach has coupled with the display, and he hopes to raise $500 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through donations.

Zach’s love for the holidays started with his family in Nebraska, and he fondly remembers searching for the perfect Christmas tree on the tree farm with his family and putting up lights with his father.

“Christmas was a big deal,” he said.

While living in a fraternity at Kansas University, where he was getting his architecture degree, holidays were pretty much absent from the halls. So when Zach and Alicia got married and moved to their first home on New Jersey Street in 2007, he was determined to have a holiday, no matter how little money they had to do it.

“I said, ‘I’ve had enough of this. We’re going to have Christmas if it kills us,’” Zach said.

That first year, Alicia gave Zach a budget of $50 for holiday decorations, and he decorated the house with a couple strings of white lights and smaller trees. Soon, though, he was tinkering with decorations, at one point rewiring a string of chaser lights to look like a pinwheel spinning.

A homemade North Pole later, Zach had logged onto and met Lawrence resident Gary Martin, who also animates the lights on his house.

Last holiday season, Zach made the jump into animated holiday lights. When he and Alicia started looking for a site for a new house, they knew they had to consider the lighting show.

“This house was designed around our family, but a lot of it was around the display too,” he said.

They chose a corner lot with few neighbors and plenty of parking space on the side of the road, and then got to work on this year’s display.

Zach ordered this year’s lights on Jan. 15, then got to work programming the lights to songs. Each 30-second portion takes eight hours to program, so for his 20-minute program, he’s spent the equivalent of 14 days programming.

“You’ve got to be crazy to do this,” he said, laughing.

Despite having thousands of lights on his house and in his yard, Zach said LED lights use only 10 percent of the power of normal Christmas lights, and his electric bill had actually gone down this month.

“The lights aren’t all on at the same time; only a quarter are on at the same time,” he said.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t invested a lot into the lights, though. He said during the last three years he’s probably spent $4,000 to $5,000 on the decorations, something Alicia tries not to think about. She said she’s happy he’s not spending money on more destructive hobbies, though.

“I know it’s something he really enjoys,” she said. “I really like them; it’s just weird that it’s my house.”

Zach said he hopes to continue decorating for years, perhaps even with the help of his son, Micah, who will turn 2 in March. This year Micah tried to help assemble the lights, although his motor skills weren’t quite advanced enough yet.

For now, he’ll keep expanding and programming his light show.

“At least until I get too old to do it,” he said.

For more info on Zach’s display, visit his website at


Seamus 7 years, 4 months ago

How touching. He doesn't want to make money off of it.

Perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize is in order.

somedude20 7 years, 4 months ago

you are going to be visited by three ghosts on 12/24

Loretta James 7 years, 4 months ago

I think its nice hes doing something for free that will be nice for the kids and donations to St. Judes is great. What are you doing for christmas that is good.

gatekeeper 7 years, 4 months ago

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Chelsea Kapfer 7 years, 4 months ago

Oh come on, give the guy a break. I thinks it's cool.

lily 7 years, 4 months ago

His money. If he's not robbing food out of his son's mouth or not paying the bills then so what. I agree with his wife. He could be spending it on a lot of other things that are not such a good idea. Everyone can enjoy this and if he gets donations for a charity, even better.

lily 7 years, 4 months ago

His money. If he's not robbing food out of his son's mouth or not paying the bills then so what. I agree with his wife. He could be spending it on a lot of other things that are not such a good idea. Everyone can enjoy this and if he gets donations for a charity, even better.

ferrislives 7 years, 4 months ago

"My name is Seamus, and I'm a Debbie Downer."

All kidding aside, Zach, it seems like you're having fun with it, which is the point of life. Forget the Debbie Downer's of the world, and keep on trucking.

LTownBaby 7 years, 4 months ago

I used to live in Gary Martin's neighborhood and I have to admit that his show is amazing. I don't think Zach can top Gary. The one negative to the lights is the extra traffic that it brought to our neighborhood. At times, we had trouble getting into our own driveway because of the people lined up to see the show!

Good luck to his new neighbors!

Zachary Stoltenberg 7 years, 4 months ago

Gary is a good friend and we have helped each other out quite a bit. No competition. Traffic should be a little easier in our neighborhood, I don't have any neighbors across the street at all. part of the reason we picked our lot. Swing by and check us out, don't forget to hit Gary's as well as Lee Howe, down on 30th and Pebble. Lots of good lights this year!

cellogrl 7 years, 4 months ago

The Parkside Circle Christmas Light show is my favorite. It's on the list that was posted above.

Kent Fisher 7 years, 4 months ago

Nice job Zach. Thanks for sharing your love of Christmas with the community. What a wonderful tradition and memories you have created for your kids, too.

matahari 7 years, 4 months ago

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Kent Fisher 7 years, 4 months ago

Brilliant. Art: "The little lights aren't twinkling." Clark Griswold: "I know Art. And thanks for noticing."

Denny2009 7 years, 4 months ago

Clark: We checked every bulb, didn't we?

Russ: Sure, dad.

Clark: Hmm... maybe we ought to just go up there and check.

kernal 7 years, 4 months ago

I drove by Gary Martin's late three years ago Christmas Eve and it looked great. Got me into the Christmas sprit before it was too late. Will check out Zach's and the others.

jayhawkgirl3 7 years, 4 months ago

We went to Zach's display and the one on Parkview. Our favorite part was the Rock Chalk Jayhawk song at Zach's. Also thanks for the candy canes and coming out to talk to us. We are impressed with everything these people do. It's great to see people in the spirit. One side note though, if you do watch these, please turn off your headlights and don't park in the middle of the streets. One person did this at Parkview, was not respectful of others.

sad_lawrencian 7 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Angela Heili 7 years, 4 months ago

Wow, Sad Lawrencian. And a bah humbug to you too. I would agree. You are kinda sad. The guy is enjoying the holiday spirit, leave him alone. Besides, what business is it of yours what he spends his money on? It is his money after all. I don't have that kind of money to spend on Christmas lights, but you don't see me posting jealous, negative comments about it. In fact, I'll probably head over there some evening and enjoy the lights with the rest of the community. Lighten up, sad one, enjoy the Christmas spirit with everyone else. It's fun!

sad_lawrencian 7 years, 4 months ago

Ah ha. So I posted a comment about this guy having too much time on his hands, and they remove it? This is not the first time one of my "contrary" opinions has been deleted. Apparently we all have to agree on everything here in Lawrence. Well, this will be my last comment posted on this website. Hey can anyone tell me how to remove my avatar? Thanks!!

pace 7 years, 4 months ago

Oh the poor troll, we didn't realize the topic was How does sad feel, what does sad think, what does sad do to grab attention, all interesting topics, not. Now he needs our help, probably right away, to remove his avatar. It is real important,

Back to topic, I am no christmas fan but I admit to the fun of taking kids around to see the lighted houses. That is a gift. Thanks for decorating your homes. I prefer the simple ones but the kids love the big surprises.

kernal 7 years, 4 months ago

Sad Sack Lawrencian, you may want to review the user conditions again if you have a beef about your comment being removed. I didn't see if, so don't know what you said. Hope your mood improves so the season won't be a total bummer for you.

JGr 7 years, 4 months ago

This sounds like the perfect cheapie date night in Lawrence! Scout out all of the great light displays and drive through, followed by a walk down Mass St. with some hot chocolate!

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