Delphos man creates Christmas tradition
By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
The glitter on the floor of his garage, while shining its very heart out, doesn’t come close to matching the twinkle in his eye.
Larry Deitering is a man who loves Christmas. It’s fair to say Christmas loves him back.
Deitering has put up lights at his house east of Delphos every year for decades. He and Diane were married in 1966, and they bought their current country house shortly after that. From the get-go, Deitering insisted on decorating for Christmas.
“When I was at home, Christmas was something else,” he said, explaining he grew up at 483 S. Main St., Delphos, during the 1950s. He is now 71 years old. People didn’t decorate too much outdoors then, but most everyone had a tree in the front window. He remembers during longer car rides that he and his brother would count the Christmas trees as the houses whizzed by.
“Christmas was something special. … I often thought, boy, if I ever get a house, I’m decorating it. And I just kept it up.”
The very first year, he put up exterior lights across the gutter of his ranch house. One straight line. It would grow.
The retired Ohio Steel worker also worked part time at the Leader store in the Lima Mall years ago. He remembers watching a man make a Christmas window display at the store. The man was using tin cans with the bottoms screwed to a wood backer, with big Christmas lights strung in the cans so the lights would illuminate the hollow can and glow outward to the viewer.
“And I said, ‘Hark!’ There we go. That’s the thing I want to do,” he said.
Stumbling upon a source for quantities of empty coffee cans, Deitering first made a star. Then a green tree. Then two eight-foot candy canes. Each can was painted to match the theme and given a heavy dose of glitter before he set them out in the yard.
Trouble is, he figures they each weigh about 120 pounds. And the cans, being metal, rust.
Bright idea No. 2 came later. Coming across a catalog of commercial 2-D decorations that towns might purchase to hang from light poles, Deitering was inspired by the shapes. He figured out — trial and error — how to bend small-diameter PVC pipe just so with a heat gun. He further figured out — again with the trial and error — how to drill holes through the pipe at regular intervals to accommodate Christmas lights.
Demonstrating his technique, the drill bit complained rather loudly about the job, and a whiff of “hot” wafted through his family room-turned-workshop.
“And I’m out in the other room trying to watch television,” Diane Deitering deadpanned, spurring laughter from both.
With a little electrical magic — shortening or lengthening the strands to include just the right number of bulbs needed for the design — a shape is born.
“He’s not a patient man any way but right here,” his wife said.
So far, he has made snowflakes, a bike with chasing lights on the wheels, two kinds of trees, two types of angels, three or four types of deer, wreaths, a star, a candy cane, Merry Christmas (each letter separate and three feet high) and his crowning glory — Santa and his sleigh for the roof.
The roof display took four years of planning. The biggest issue? Wind.
“I didn’t want it to blow over to the neighbors,” he said, laughing. So far, it’s OK. “I never say never.”
Not one to sit for too long, Larry Deitering starts putting out lights usually the first week of October. He still climbs up on his roof to arrange lights and patrols his lighted display once an hour, no matter the weather, to do safety checks. And he’s always thinking about how to add to it. He was contemplating a path through the yard with solar and rope lights, and a long-time dream has been a train shape.
“There’s so many things I want to do — and I will,” he said, grinning. “I don’t count how many lights by the way. Don’t ask me that. Whatever it takes to look good.”
Add the Christmas music that the Deiterings play via a speaker in the yard, and their house is a regular tourist attraction. They are both tickled that so many people drive by to view.
There was only one year he considered not putting up the lights. It was 1990, and he was depressed about losing his job. His 95-year-old neighbor called him, concerned that the lights hadn’t yet made an appearance. She offered to pay the electric bill.
It was then when the Deiterings realized just how important the display is to people in the area.
“Well, I’m just glad people love them, because I love them,” he said. “I enjoy other people enjoying it. That’s why I don’t charge them for it.”
It’s a feeling that has been passed down to his son, Kevin Deitering.
“Growing up, I’m always remembering friends would come over, and we could actually play football and whatever in the front yard because it was so bright,” he said, laughing at how well the yard was illuminated.
Now grown and with three children, Kevin Deitering also decorates his rural Kalida home with lights at Christmas.
“Everyone has a hobby. I guess I’m kind of taking after him a little bit,” he said. “Especially when you got a dad when you ask for lights he’s got, like, five boxes full of them.”
Kevin Deitering finds himself getting excited about getting things ready right after Halloween.
“I guess family is the biggest thing. And the whole feeling of Christmas. It’s the best time of year,” he said.
A LIGHT HABIT
Larry Deitering started with the big, classic bulbs. He speaks of C9s and C7s like they’re family members. Problem is, they’re energy hogs.
He started transitioning to LED bulbs about five or six years ago and has found a new friend. His energy bill has actually stayed about the same, even though he guesses he has about 50 percent more lights on display.
He speaks well of the 50-light strands of LEDs, as they “seem to last forever.”
He can’t help buying more lights, though, receiving gift certificates for that purpose as Christmas gifts. It’s such a major hobby to him, and has been for years.
He remembers an after-Christmas sale at one retailer, a deep-discount sale he was certain not to miss.
“And it was a snow storm, so it was ideal. So nobody showed up but … me,” he said.
IF YOU GO
When: On or before Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve
Where: 6060 Defiance Trail, Delphos (near the U.S. 30 ramp at state Route 309)