MOUNT VERNON — For Mike and Karen Kepple, Christmas is their season. Over the years, their joy of decorating for the holidays has become well known in Mount Vernon. Each year their imagination grows and they can’t help but share their enthusiasm with the friends, neighbors and spectators who drive by their home on Vernonview Drive, by creating holiday scenes for everyone to enjoy.
“We’ve been decorating for about 20 years,” said Karen. “We started out slow with just a few items as [Mike] tried to make things. At first, we weren’t sure what to do, but a little more came each year, and then we began to try new things.”
The full display comes with a year in advance planning, designing and creating the figures and light features. The stars, candles, Christmas trees, angels and everything was welded by Mike Kepple and his employees at J.B. Kepple Sheet Metal Works.
“[Mike] designs on paper and makes a pattern and then decides what he’s going to make it out of. He gets it cut and takes it to the welders. Then we order the plastic clips that hold the lights after we design and make it,” said Karen. “This is not something you can do at the last minute because it’s so big we have to have a year to plan it, and have to get it made.”
With each particular piece, the lightings have to coordinate with other light strands, so the Kepples often have to change the light strand to fit the image.
“It’s very time consuming, more than what people realize,” said Mike.
For each December display, the Kepples usually start at the end of the previous year.
“We try to do something new every year, and this year the new was the ‘welcome holiday’ lettering. The fountain is new and that was our first attempt with the new LED lights,” said Karen.
This year the Kepples were also looking for energy-saving ways to conserve power by using LED lights.
“The trees along the road coming up here are LED lights,” said Mike. “The LEDs have 20,000 hours in life. Uusually with a conventional set of lights you can put three strands together without a fuse blowing, but LED lights you can put 40 strands together without blowing a fuse. That’s a big difference in power that they use.”
“People comment when I’m out grocery shopping or at the business, they are always asking ‘Hey, Kepple, do you have everything ready for Christmas?’ or they will ask ‘What’s new?’” said Karen.
The Kepples begin setting up the decorations the first weekend in November, and by the end of Thanksgiving are ready to put the final touches to the display.
“We spend about every weekend working on it,” said Mike. “We try to get it done while it’s nice, before the ground freezes.”
After lighting everything up the first night, the Kepples are out walking around to make sure everything is in working order.
“We did change a few things after we set everything up because it didn’t look good; I changed my mind because there was a dark spot over there, or we added something,” said Karen.
“The enjoyment of it is great,” she said. “But the fun of it is creating something new every year. That’s the excitement — creating something new and then see if it works. If you enjoy it, then other people will enjoy it, too.”
Karen said they also enjoy the challenge of doing something different each year.
“It wouldn’t be exciting if we did the same thing every year,” she said.
Karen also does character cutouts and paints them to decorate along with the lightings. This year she created snowmen and several different scenes, including snow children having a snowball fight, Santa elves filling a large Christmas sack with toys, reindeer, and various other scenes of Christmas.
“And the grandkids get really excited to see what we have each year,” said Karen. “I can’t imagine being too old to do this, even though I know we will.”
“It’s a lot of work,” said Mike. “We have about 12 acres that we have lights on, spread out.”
If weather permits, the Kepples usually remove the lights and decorations around the first of the new year.
“One of my favorites is the large green light tree at the fence,” said Karen.
“A week before we light them, we start to see people looking for them as they drive by and looking around in the day time, and we see them coming down the road driving real slow,” said Mike.
For next year, the Kepples are planning to have more of a theme since this year was a variety of Christmas images.