Echo Press Light up the Night winners include a surprise entry

Readers choose their favorite holiday light displays. Check out the map and then check out the lights.

BestBusiness 1592.jpg
Farmers Insurance, which was voted the Best Business Display, features a large, lighted nativity scene in front of the building. Farmers Insurance is located at 1012 Broadway in Alexandria. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

It’s that time of year when the night sky comes alive with twinkly Christmas lights glowing near and far. And if COVID-19 has you feeling cooped up and you need to get out, why not check out all the creative and festive decorations and lights in the Douglas County area?

The votes are in and the winners of the Echo Press Light up the Night contest sponsored by Ace Hardware are:

  • Best Business Display: Farmer Insurance, Darryl Schmidt, 1012 Broadway, Alexandria

  • Most Fun Display: Mathew and Jill Mogenson, 506 Central Ave. N., Brandon

  • Most Beautiful Display: Collin Nelson and Brianne Coyer, 822 Westwood Dr. SW, Alexandria

In the first-ever online version of the Light up the Night contest, there were 30 entries – three in the business category, 15 for the most fun category and 12 for most beautiful. And there were a total of 1,310 votes cast.
A map detailing the locations of the entries includes 22 of the displays as some of the entries did not include an address.

The Echo Press and Ace Hardware would like to congratulate the winners, who each received $50 in Chamber Bucks .


All Light up the Night entries that included an address are listed on the map. (Becca Clemens / Forum Design Center)

Surprise entry

April Schmidt decided to enter the Light up the Night contest this year, but she didn’t enter her own display. Instead, she entered the business category for her dad, Darryl Schmidt, who owns Farmer’s Insurance on Broadway in Alexandria.

On the front lawn of the business, at 1012 Broadway, is a large nativity scene that Darryl Schmidt and his wife, Wanda, made back in 1996.

“I entered him because my parents worked very hard on that nativity set and I am proud of them,” said April Schmidt. “It’s a beautiful display and getting recognized for hard work is always fun.”

April said she surprised her dad and mom last week with a cake from the grandkids that read, “You won!” She said her parents had to guess for a bit before they were told that the display won in the business category for the Echo Press Light up the Night contest.

“It was fun to see their surprise,” said April.

Darryl Schmidt said he thought it was pretty cool and very thoughtful that his daughter entered him in the contest.


But Darryl didn’t take much of the credit for the display, even though he did cut out the pieces.

He said his wife, Wanda, is the artist and came up with the design and creation and did all the painting of the 12-piece set.

“Wanda is the one who designed the display to look as gorgeous as it does. She did all the hard work,” he said. “I got the easy part.”

When the couple, who live along Highway 29 South, first built the nativity scene with some pieces reaching 8-feet tall, it was displayed in their yard for a number of years. When Darryl moved his office from Third Avenue to Broadway in 2002, the nativity scene became a fixture in the yard at his office.

Darryl did admit that each year he has been known to say, “That’s it, this is the last year” and that he has no plans to put the display up again the following year. But, he says the emails and phone calls he receives saying how much people like the display and thank him for putting it up, make him change his mind and he ends up putting the nativity scene up again.

Darryl says he typically puts up the pieces the weekend after Thanksgiving and then takes it down the weekend after New Year’s Day.

Joy to the neighborhood

Collin Nelson and Brianne Coyer love the after Christmas light sales and after purchasing a house in 2017, decided it was time to start putting all those lights to good use.

Each year, they have been adding to their display, said Nelson, which is why they love the after Christmas sales so much.


The couple lives on Westwood Drive Southwest in Alexandria and although they have now lost count, Nelson guesses they have upward of more than 125 strands of lights. But there are more than just lights to see at their house.

MostBeautiful 1555.jpg
The home of Collin Nelson at 822 Westwood Drive in Alexandria was chosen as the Most Beautiful Display in the Echo Press' Light up the Night contest. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Nelson said one of his favorites is a fake fence they made out of PVC pipes that they put up just to have a place to display more lights. He said they also have a Christmas cart that they added lights to, along with some presents that are lit up as well.

“We do it to bring some joy to the neighborhood, plus we also like seeing other peoples’ lights,” said Nelson. “That is why we started the ‘ Alexandria Area Christmas Lights ’ Facebook page so others know where to look for the displays.”

With all those lights, one might wonder if there might be a jump in the couple’s electricity bill. Nelson said there is and that it definitely adds a couple hundred dollars extra to the bill.

“But it’s definitely worth it when you hear random people talking about your displays,” he said.

The couple have entered the Light up the Night contest for a couple of years and were very happy when they got the call notifying them that they had won.


“We are just happy that people enjoy our display and were able to vote for us,” he said, adding that they are thankful for the votes they received.

Bringing smiles to others

Matt and Jill Mogensen, who live on Central Avenue in Brandon, have lost count of how many strands of lights they use each year. When asked about their electric bill, Matt Mogensen said, “We haven’t determined the cost of running all the lights. Using all LED lights helps keep the cost down.”

And besides, Mogensen added, even if the bill does increase, it is worth it.

MostFun 1601.jpg
The home of Mathew and Jill Mogensen at 506 Central Avenue North in Brandon features several decorated trees and many colorful yard decorations. The home was chosen as the Most Fun Display in the Echo Press' Light up the Night contest. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Mogensen said he’s been decorating for Christmas since he was a child. He started helping when his family decorated and has now carried on that tradition by decorating his own home.

He, too, likes bringing smiles and joy to others, especially children.

“I really like when I see families in vehicles stopping to enjoy the display and when they get out to take pictures,” said Mogensen.


Besides lights, he said the family has several inflatables, a collection of blow molds, wreaths, stars and a few other items.

Every year, he tries to find more unique items to add to the display and then he groups themed items together when setting up his display.

Mogensen was happy to find out he won the contest, but said he was also surprised because there were a lot of great light displays entered in this year’s contest.

Mogensen also added that Christmastime isn’t the only time of year he does big holiday displays.

“I also do a pretty big Halloween display in October!” he said.

MostFun 1648.jpg
The home of Mathew and Jill Mogensen at 506 Central Avenue North in Brandon features a variety of yard decorations and decorated trees. The home was chosen as the Most Fun Display in the Echo Press' Light up the Night contest. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
What To Read Next
Get Local