The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 15, 2011

Tornado may end 23-year run of popular Christmas display

By Kelly Kazek
kelly@athensnews-courier.com

— Typically, when the air seems a little more crisp in the mornings and breezes are carried on cooler currents, Bobby Powell’s thoughts have already turned to new ideas for his Christmas display.

For more than 20 years, the Powell home at 12768 Cambridge Lane has been a destination for North Alabama families who drive cars filled with wide-eyed children through the display of more than 85,000 lights and 252 figures.

Earlier this year, Powell spent about $16,000 converting some of his display to LED lights, once again improving on a display that began with six donated strings of lights at his business Sonshine Audio on U.S. 72.

But on April 27, a twister packing 210-mph winds left the future of the Powell display in doubt. The winds left the Powell’s home unscathed but knocked down two metal towers that housed lighting operations and dozens of trees that once sparkled with tiny lights.

When the storm was over, the property had more than $20,000 in damage, Powell said.

He is going to have to decide whether to continue the tradition in the face of such loss but he said he is torn because he knows the display means a lot to residents.

Two years after it began at his shop, the display had grown much larger but Powell’s employees had left the business and he decided the display was too much work for him to do alone. That August, he went to a few shops in downtown Athens, where he was stopped by several residents who thanked him and said, “Your display depicts the true meaning of the season.”

“I thought, ‘The Lord’s trying to tell me something,’” Powell said. He decided to continue the display at his home with the theme “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”

Cars would drive through a path on the Powell property to see the displays while listening to Christmas music on the sound system. Because of the cost of utilities, Powell accepted donations in a box at the end of the drive.

Powell said in a typical year, he would have begun work on the display in August. Now, he’s going to take a couple of weeks and try to decide what to do.

“I’m not sure I can overcome the loss,” he said. “I’ve got a big decision to make.”