Posted by Bonnie Branciaroli on Dec 15, 2018
In this magical time when giving is part of the Season, we offer this remarkable story about how one spark of an idea in one Rotary club grew to six weeks of illumination featuring 4 million twinkling lights to help “Feed the Hungry of the Coulee Region” for nearly 25 years. Enjoy!


PRESIDING TODAY IS: Bonnie Branciaroli


bellDing! We’re now in session.

Welcome all – Visitors, fellow Rotarians and guests alike to this E-Club program!


Four-Way Test

At the beginning of each meeting we remind ourselves of the The Four-Way Test.  Therefore, please remember to ask yourself always . . .

Of the things we think, say or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Reflective Moments

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light… We all have something to give.”
                 ~~  George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, Inaugural Speech, January 20, 1989
“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.”
                 ~~  Charles Dickens
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works…
                 ~~  Mathew 5: 14-16


Lighter Moments to share by the Fireside

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph.”
                 ~~  Shirley Temple
“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
                 ~~  Maya Angelou
“It’s the first day of spring. That means this weekend I’ll take down my Christmas lights.”
                 ~~  David Letterman


Program:  The Shining Light of Rotary

The Rotary Lights of La Crosse, Wisconsin
In southwest Wisconsin, (as in every Rotary district around the world), any Rotary project and activity is based upon the questions posed in the Four Way Test:
Is it the truth?
It is fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Rotary Lights was a spark of an idea, meant to extinguish after its one-time appearance, but instead, took off like a rocket.
When the project Rotary Lights entered the planning stages 24 years ago in La Crosse, Wisconsin, these four questions were answered one by one. Out of the discussions came the decision to collect food for hunger agencies and money for participating non-profits. The questions were the basis for creating Rotary Lights as a free-to-the-public event that would grow to be a leading tourism holiday destination in the Coulee Region of southwest Wisconsin.
The Beginning
In 1994 Duane Moore, incoming president of Rotary Club of La Crosse East, was charged with envisioning a project for his club. On a visit to Rhema Bible Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, he was impressed enough by their Christmas light display to meet with organizers for details about the project.
Moore carried the idea home and proposed it to his club. In the spring of 1995 Moore and present day president of Rotary Lights, Pat Stephens, carried the idea to other area Rotary Club presidents, who in turn took the idea to their clubs. Amidst the naysayers, the idea caught hold. Though not conceived as a project with staying power, Rotary Lights not only stayed, it thrived.
The first lights, (250,000 in total), were turned on November 24, 1995 in front of 500 spectators at Riverside Park in La Crosse. The event was billed as the Coulee Jubilee, and open from the day after Thanksgiving until just after midnight on January 1, a total of 38 nights. The display generated tremendous excitement throughout the area, with thousands of people viewing the lights and donating over 13,000 items of food! An average of 1,500 cars drove through the magical display each evening.
Where They Are Now
Fast forward to 2017, and nearly 4 million lights glimmered on the bank of the Mississippi River and heralded in the “Million Mississippi Reflections” Rotary Lights display that highlights over 50 animated displays. These displays have been and are designed from chalk on the floor up by fellow Rotarian, Leo Chupot, throughout the past 23 years.
When asked by Discover Wisconsin host, Jake Zimmerman, “What do you get out of donating so much time for so long to making Rotary Lights?” Chupot replied, “Our purpose here at Rotary Lights is to feed the hungry. I am able to build the displays, Rotary Lights pays for supplies; we save literally tens of thousands of dollars to feed the hungry.”
Since its humble beginning, Rotary Lights has become a staple of the La Crosse holiday season and a family tradition for countless volunteers and visitors. This 2018 Christmas season marks the 24th year for the fundraising event and includes:
All nine area Rotary clubs participating in the service project
20-member Board of Directors representing all nine Rotary clubs
32-member steering committee
Nearly 100 participating and benefiting non-profits, equaling over 3,000 volunteers
15 Benefiting food pantries hoping to share nearly 350,000 donated food items this season
99 Sponsors donating funds from as much as $5,000 to a $500 level
36 Vendors that donate to feed the 3,000 Santa helpers (volunteers) from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day
125 Businesses, organizations and individuals offering Gifts-In-Kind donations and services
Continuing partnership with the La Crosse Park and Recreation Department for use and maintenance of Riverside Park, located on the banks of the Mississippi River.
200,000+  visitors traveling to La Crosse, bringing with them nearly 325,000 of non-perishable food items, to see Rotary Lights
2019 will mark Rotary Lights 25th Anniversary, and Pat Stephens, who originally volunteered to chair the project in 1995, has been a steadfast Rotary volunteer overseeing the project for the past 24 years, and as president of Rotary Lights, looks forward to a goal of over 4 million donated food items in the 25-year history of the event.
“Our mission is to “Feed the Hungry of the Coulee Region,” he said in an interview with Discover Wisconsin, “and Rotary Lights donations come at the right time of year.”
To date, Rotary Lights food donations make up 1/3 of the annual gross donations for most of the area pantries.
Stephens wrote in his greeting for the 2018 Rotary Lights Program Booklet that highlights event times and locations within the park:
“On behalf of the Stephens Family, my fellow Rotarians in La Crosse Rotary East, La Crosse Downtown, Valley View Rotary, After Hours Rotary, La Crescent, Caledonia, Onalaska, Holmen and Onalaska Hilltoppers Rotary Clubs, along with a very dedicated Board of Directors and Steering Committee, and over 3,000 community volunteers, please accept Best Wishes for a Safe and Happy Holiday Season.”
It is amazing to bear witness to this shining story of light, a story of Rotarians at Work, for the Good of Community and Mankind.
To learn more about Rotary Lights:
Scroll to the bottom of the home page for great videos!
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