By Gary Sledge from Reader’s Digest | December 2010
One morning last December, Bill McDonald read in the paper that a local man, Joe Day, was sick with small-cell lung cancer. That meant Day couldn’t assemble the magnificently lit, handcrafted Christmas displays that had made his house in Versailles, Indiana, an annual holiday pilgrimage site for as many as 95,000 people.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Joe’s lights, thought McDonald. Somebody has got to help this guy, he decided.
Day had made his own quick decision 33 Christmases ago when he came home one afternoon from his job as an electrician and found his five-year-old grandson, Nicholas, waiting. “What do you want to do today?” Day asked.
“Let’s build a reindeer, Papa,” Nicholas said. They fashioned one using wood from a fallen tree, then set it out on the lawn and lit up its cherry-red nose for the holidays.
Each year, Day added to his handi-work, placing reindeer on a track above his roof and winding lights as if they were electric vines around his windows and doors. Eventually thousands of lights, figures, mannequins, and models filled his yard and spilled into his sister’s property next door.
Then came December 2009. Day’s cancer, diagnosed in March, had spread to his liver and spleen. After 19 rounds of chemotherapy and 43 radiation treatments, he was too tired and despondent to celebrate Christmas.
Until McDonald called.
“You don’t know me,” McDonald said, “but I want to help you get your lights up.” Through word of mouth, McDonald and his wife, Toni, enlisted the Knights of Columbus, the Masons, the Lions, local firefighters, friends, and strangers to set up Day’s displays. For two days, more than 100 volunteers climbed in and around Day’s house and yard, following his hand-drawn diagrams that showed where everything should go.
On the evening of December 12, with crowds of volunteers cheering him on, Day flipped the switch and lit up the spectacle. “This is what the Lord wanted us to do,” says McDonald, “to pull together, and be together, and help one another.”
Day’s cancer is in remission, and he looks forward to Christmas 2010. “In their hearts,” Day says, “people love to give.” He is confident that his brilliant displays will continue to light up the darkness for many years to come because Bill McDonald has promised that he’ll get the job done.
Sadly, as reported below by WLWT, in February of 2011 Joe Day lost his battle with cancer. It is clear from the story above as well as the news clip below that his memory will live on in the hearts of those who knew him well and all of those who came from miles around every holiday season to behold his unforgettable Christmas light display he was so devoted to putting up each year.