In December 2016, the Laurel Leader-Call publicized a desperate plea from organizers of the iconic Mason Park Christmas light display. Organizers of one of the most unique sights in Mississippi were pleading for volunteers to help with a process that is laborious for an army, let alone a small group of volunteers.
The plea went unanswered and those same Magnificent Seven who were responsible for that massive undertaking again gave up countless hours, countless aches and pains — the average age of committee members is 68 — to provide a city of more than 20,000 people such a wonderful spectacle of Christmas cheer.
Again, volunteers didn’t step up to the plate.
The undertaking became too much and the decision had to be made to not light the park this Christmas. The city provides the electricity, but all the physical labor was provided by those volunteers. It was a labor of love, but one that came at a cost to those volunteers. Now, several volunteers are jumping into the fray pledging to save the day and have the park lighted. Sadly, organizers say it’s too little too late — at least for this year.
The park will not be lighted, although a group is trying to construct a smaller display. The undertaking is too complex to just have a group of people show up at the 11th hour to save the day. But there is hope that the darkness that will greet Laurelites at the city’s most magnificent park likely will spur on the next generation of leaders to take on such a project.
We are 100 percent confident that the current crop will pass on their knowledge and know-how to the next crop of leaders. That learning has to start early, even in the summer months well before anyone even dreams of Christmas. It will take a steadfast commitment to giving up nights, weekends, mornings — pretty much entire days — to get that park to its holiday splendor so many of us have loved. How many people, though, drove by those lights without ever giving a thought as to who was responsible for doing all that work?
There is a 1980s rock song with a lyric, “Don’t know what you’ve got ... til it’s gone.” The Mason Park lights are gone this year — but not forever. A civic club could take up the project, or Leadership Jones County, or the junior leaders of Jones County. All hope is not lost to re-light the park next Christmas.
In the meantime, every Laurel resident owes a debt of gratitude to a group of people — Tim and Barbara Tillery, Tim Dudley, Gloria James, Frank Dechert, Alvis Hodge, Mary Ann Stevens and Roger McLeod — who took on a thankless undertaking to make Laurel’s Mason Park one of the most unique Christmas experiences in any city, large or small. They toiled in virtual anonymity for years, quietly begging for help. The community will forever owe gratitude to JV Pool, who donated many of the displays and lights.
December will be a bit sadder this year, at least along North 7th Avenue. That can change, though, if enough “new blood” has the commitment and the passion that the Committee to Light Mason Park had. We are confident those new leaders will step up to the plate and make next year better than ever.