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updated: 12/21/2011 10:06 AM

Popular Elgin home wins 2011 Holiday Lights contest

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  • Elgin's Mike Arnold is the winner of the holiday lights contest sponsored by the Daily Herald.

       Elgin's Mike Arnold is the winner of the holiday lights contest sponsored by the Daily Herald.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin's Mike Arnold is the winner of the holiday lights contest sponsored by the Daily Herald.

      Elgin's Mike Arnold is the winner of the holiday lights contest sponsored by the Daily Herald.
    Mark Welsh

  • Elgin's Mike Arnold is the winner of the holiday lights contest sponsored by the Daily Herald.

       Elgin's Mike Arnold is the winner of the holiday lights contest sponsored by the Daily Herald.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Video: The Arnolds' display

 

All sorts of people know the house with the lights at 106 Monroe St. in Elgin -- the winner of the 2011 Daily Herald Holiday Lights contest.

When homeowner Mike Arnold visits the doctor's office, nurses look at his file and ask if his house is the one with the lights.

A group of college students on their way through town once sent a Christmas card telling the Arnolds how they had seen the house with the lights and just had to write to them.

The 8-foot-tall Santa on the rooftop signals the start of the holiday season for the neighborhood.

Bus tours stop by to take photos and meet the designer, and cars line the street every evening between Thanksgiving and early January to see the army of Nutcracker figurines, handmade ornaments on the tree that his wife, Pam, makes to commemorate each year, and the giant candles that border the lawn. The house is featured in two books, and Arnold hears stories from people who visited the home when they were children.

"I don't do it for the recognition. It's the fact that people really enjoy it," Arnold said. "When it stops being fun -- that's when I will stop putting in the time, money and effort it takes."

The Arnolds' display received 721 votes, with second and third place receiving 419 and 151 votes, respectively. The Daily Herald eliminated illegal votes.

A total of 91 homes were entered in the contest. The grand prize is a Toro Power Clear 621 QZE snow blower valued at more than $800.

Arnold, who has decorated the house for the past 36 years, said there are about 200 figurines, including a family of reindeer and a train set in the front yard. Then there are more than 22,000 lights strung in a tree, on the house and in both the front and backyards.

It takes 100 hours to move pieces from the attic to the yard and set them all up. Then there's the teardown that takes just as long.

Arnold said a team of helpers, including his wife and adult children, assist every year.

The Arnolds have entered contests before, but never one that involved online voting.

"We knew people were getting joy out of it," said Mike, an electrical engineer by trade. "Now we know for sure."

It started in 1975 with eight figurines and 2,000 lights. Back then, it took eight or nine circuits to carry the energy load. But with the advent of LED lights, Arnold said, he can run the whole display on two circuits and cut the electricity bill in half.

"My mom had a passion for decorating the house and I have been able to continue it," he said.

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