Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Helping the University Avenue Holiday Lights become a permanent institution

University Avenue Holiday Lights Through a Rainy Windshield
They look great in any weather but were especially beautiful in the rain the other night. Dr. Jack Kammer's University Avenue Holiday Lights are a Madison institution that seems to have been there forever, brightening the winter darkness for thousands of people. But in reality it's only been 15 years since the now retired Madison dentist first started stringing lights on the couple hundred arbor vitae trees he bought for $8.50 apiece in the early eighties and planted along the railroad tracks that ran by his office. Over the years he has invested some $100,000 to keep the lights shining every holiday season. He tells the story in a new book available at University Bookstores, The Story of the University Avenue Holiday Lights: Madison, Wisconsin USA.
The first chapter — called, with a nod to the Pentateuch, "In the Beginning" — tells how Kammer acquired the land occupied by the trees from the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, how he bought the trees from an Eau Claire nursery, how he planted them and "watered them profusely." Elsewhere he recounts the project's early years, when he bought incandescent lights at Menards, and he describes in some technical detail the switch to LEDs.

So what's it all about? Kammer writes that the display is a thank you to his foster mother (described movingly in a prologue), to his wife, to a childhood friend and, essentially, everyone — "every ethnic background and every religion."
To help make sure the lights outlast him, Kammer has also started a trust fund, the Shorewood Hills Trust Tree Fund. Contributions are tax deductible.


Sweetbabs said...

This is a great photo!!!

Dr Bud Diablo, Christmas Elf said...

I had an office in that area for years and always looked forward to the day when Kammer would hit the switch. The lights are festive indeed, and their appearance was sort of the official opening of the Christmas season for me.

I do question whether the attraction rates an entire book, slim volume though it may be. If it does, you are equally justified in publishing YULE (B)LOG: The Letter from Here Old-Fasioned Holiday Collection o' Pics 'n' Posts. I know that's a clumsy title, but there's no reason why I should devote days to thinking up a better one. I have other fish to fry.

Dorie Adams said...

Nice post. I really enjoyed Kenneth Burns's review of the Kammer book in Isthmus which you've quoted it at length here.

Donna said...

I've contributed to the fund...I get way more enjoyment out of these lights than I do of the holiday light show at Olin Turville.

If you like lights, you really should make a visit to the Rotary Gardens in Janesville some evening.

cristian said...

Are the local authorities sleeping or something? Aren't they interesred in keeping tradition alive and teh beauty of the city? I mean, that they should get involved and try to make it all official.
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