Christmas lights help fight cancer

INDIAN TRAIL – When Pete Kimbell and his wife, Sherri, decided to start a synchronized Christmas light show three years ago, it was  just to entertain the community.

The Kimbell family home, at 4026 Garden Oak Drive in Indian Trail, is ready for Christmas - and raising money to fight cancer.

The Kimbell family home, at 4026 Garden Oak Drive in Indian Trail, is ready for Christmas – and raising money to fight cancer.

But after two years of preparation work and a shocking diagnosis, the Indian Trail couple also is using the display to fulfill a two-fold mission – supporting the National Foundation for Cancer Research while educating the public on what the foundation does.

The Garden Oak Holiday Lights Display will run every evening through Jan. 1, 2014, a Wednesday, from 6 to 9 p.m. on school nights and 6 to 10 p.m. on non-school nights at the Kimbells’ home, 4026 Garden Oak Drive. The 20-minute show features more than 13,000 lights synchronized to music, and visitors can turn their car radio to 94.5 FM to listen to the music while watching the display.

This is the second year in a row the Kimbells have hosted the show. For years, they hosted an extravagant static display at their former residence, but when they moved to their current home in 2008, the couple waited two years before deciding how they wanted to decorate.

“We had a new house, this blank canvas to work with,” Pete Kimbell said.

The Kimbells began looking into creating a sequenced lighting display synchronized to music in 2010. The more they looked into it, the more the couple discovered just how extensive a task they were signing up for. Planning took about 20 months, followed by at least four months of putting it all together.

“It took two years to prepare the knowledge to put it all together and to get the material to physically make the display,” Kimbell said.

When researching synchronized displays, Kimbell discovered red, green and blue, or RGB, LED lights were the “latest and greatest up-and-coming thing.” But overwhelmed at the prospect of purchasing ready-made RGB LED lights, Kimbell tracked down a supplier in Hong Kong to obtain the materials so he could build the lights himself.

“I have a degree in engineering, so I knew I could get it cheaper if I built it,” Kimbell explained.

The Kimbells placed the order in the summer of 2012, and once the materials arrived, the couple began piecing together the display – putting in about 2,000 hours of work between the two of them and hanging lights in the August heat.

As they were planning and constructing the display, the Kimbells also brainstormed about how they could turn the show into a charitable endeavor.

“Typically, these shows do raise money for an organization. We couldn’t figure out what we wanted to raise money for,” Kimbell said.

But a few months before Christmas, Kimbell received earth-shattering news – his mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the time of his mom’s diagnosis, the life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients was nine months, Kimbell said. So the Kimbells chose to devote their light show to supporting the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

When Christmas 2012 rolled around, the Kimbells weren’t sure what response they’d receive from the community. But by the end of the season, they’d handed out 600 candy canes to people who came to visit the show and collected $600 in donations for the foundation.

“It was overwhelming,” Kimbell said. “We didn’t expect it, but it was great. It was very flattering that everyone thought it was a good enough display that they kept coming back again and again.”

Hosting the display again this year was a no-brainer, given the support received last year, Kimbell said. He’s added a 20-foot “mega tree” to the display, and the rest of the lights line the house and change in sync to the music for a “clean” and “contemporary display” that’s “not an explosion of Christmas,” Kimbell added.

“The whole (display) is clean in appearance,” he said. “That’s one of the requirements my wife had; it had to be clean and tasteful.”

The Kimbells have already handed out 600 candy canes this year, and have raised about $300 for the foundation. They’re goal is to bring in $1,000 by New Year’s Day. While the funds won’t go directly to pancreatic cancer research, they’ll be applied to studies that may discover drugs that could successfully treat pancreatic cancer and other forms of the disease, Kimbell

“In the 1950s, when polio was running rampant, nobody thought there was going to be a way to stop it,” he said. “It took funds, money and educating the public to (fund) that research.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers people are not really around long enough to fight … but we’ve got some fantastic technology and research. There’s strong possibilities in this area.”

And perhaps one of the greatest blessings is Kimbell’s mom will get to see the display again this year, thanks to a medication that’s successfully slowed the growth of her tumors. As of this month, she’s a 15-month pancreatic cancer survivor who still tends her garden and volunteers regularly.

“She’s not letting it stop her. She’s going to keep on going,” Kimbell said.

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