Sundbom takes first in lighting contest

The more than 35,000 lights on Roy Sundbom's Martin Road home make daylight out of winter's early dusk, and his neighbors love it. They should -- he spends weeks in the November and December cold decorating for them. Sundbom's three children and ...

The more than 35,000 lights on Roy Sundbom's Martin Road home make daylight out of winter's early dusk, and his neighbors love it.

They should -- he spends weeks in the November and December cold decorating for them.

Sundbom's three children and six grandchildren all live within a block of his house at 5649 Martin Road.

He spends about two solid weeks each year decorating his yard, which, when finished, includes a gingerbread house and castle for his grandchildren to play in.

The grandkids aren't the only ones who enjoy Sundbom's decorations. The 35,000 lights, 80 standing decorations and 150 extension cords in Sundbom's yard have made him this year's first-place winner in the Residential Division of the Holiday Lighting Contest sponsored by the Budgeteer News, the city of Duluth, News Six and Hanft Fride Law Firm.


"It started out with just a few lights, and each year we decided to put up a few more and a few more," he said. "And ... now it's at a point where it's almost going a little overboard. But I love it. It's fun."

Sundbom started decorating about 10 years ago when his wife told him that he should get a little more into the Christmas spirit for their grandchildren, he said.

Now she decorates inside the house, and he decorates the yard.

Sundbom's grandchildren do love their grandpa's decorations, said Thomas and Francesca Otterson, two of Sundbom's grandchildren.

"They're cool," said 8-year-old Thomas. "I like the reindeer on the roof, and I like the candy canes."

Francesca, 3, said she prefers the gingerbread house where she plays with her cousins.

Thomas hopes to convince Sundbom to build a moving train that he can ride around the yard in, said Troy Otterson, Sundbom's son-in-law.

"That's one of their favorite places," Troy said. "They'll make me take them over to the gingerbread house so they can play."


The largest piece in Sundbom's yard is a 60 foot tree with about 5,000 lights on it. The lights are left on the tree year round, but each year Sundbom uses a lift truck to replace anything that's burnt out, he said.

This year isn't the first time Sundbom has won the lighting contest, but it is the first time he accepted the award.

Sundbom won the contest in 2001, but because of a death in the family the Ottersons accepted the award for him, Sundbom said.

Troy Otterson, said he's glad Sundbom was able to accept the award himself at Friday's ceremony.

"He loves it," Troy said. "You know it's got to be rewarding; he works so hard every night. He likes to share, and that's what (decorating) is about -- sharing his energy and his spirit."

Sundbom's lights are set on timers, and turn on each night starting at 4 p.m. and turn off at 10:45 p.m., he said, adding that he turns the timers off after New Year's.

For each entry in this year's contest, Hanft Fride Law Firm donated $5 to the Salvation Army for a total of $325.

Second place in the Residential Division went to Byron and Mary Kay Swanson, of 4629 Woodland Ave. Third place went to Michael Zeman, Shelly Wick-Zeman and Sam Wick-Zeman, of 1421 104th Ave. W. They received gift certificates from Super Valu, while Sundbom received a trophy.


Voyageur Bus Company, 3941 E. Calvary Road, won in the Commercial Division and Edwin and Pearl Prihoda, 1311 105th Ave. W., won in the Neighborhood Division.

Marcia Hales, of 3739 Lake Ave. S., was awarded first place in the Masters Division for the fifth time. "It's fun," Hales said. "I'm kind of feeling like maybe I should retire and let someone else take it up."

Hales doesn't only have lights in her yard, however. Santa Claus visits the display on the weekends from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.. She also has a guest book for visitors to sign and offers cider in her garden house. Hales estimates that 40,000 people came through her exhibit last year. "It's turned into a tradition for some people," Hales said.

Last Friday, a young man proposed to his girlfriend there, and one family wrote a "thank you" in the guest book because they were able to share the lights with their young daughter who has cancer, Hales' said.

"There are so many stories," Hales said. "These lights aren't really about me. They're about who comes to see them."

Even though Hales' accepted her fifth Master's Division trophy on Friday, she doesn't want to make it number six next year, she said.

This year, she challenged all of Park Point to put at least a candle in the window and is hoping next year Park Point will be accepting a neighborhood award instead, she said.

Hales' garden house will be open with the lights on weekdays until 10 p.m. and weekends until 11 p.m. until New Year's Day, she said. The lights will be on through the first week of January, but the garden house will be closed that last week.

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