Metro-East Living

New Baden holiday light show benefits Fontebella maternity shelter

New Baden holiday light show goes on despite shoulder surgery

Donations collected for Fontebella maternity home in O'Fallon.
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Donations collected for Fontebella maternity home in O'Fallon.

Mark Jasper wants you to stop by and see the computer-generated light display he put up at his New Baden home.

The show at 605 Christopher Drive dances to 28 songs from 4:30 to 10 p.m. weekdays and until 11 p.m. weekends through Jan. 1. Turn your FM radio to 90.1 to listen. You can choose which song you want to hear by typing into your smartphone. Your favorite will be next.

Songs and video images on the screen, set up in a front window, change depending on the night. Friday night is kids night. It’s all cartoons. Saturday is adult night.

“We have a sign out front, ‘If you enjoy the show and come back, please bring a can of food or a buck or two,’” said Mark, 66, who donates what he gets to Fontebella, a Christian-based maternity home off Hartman Lane in O’Fallon. Baby clothes and canned goods, ready to be sent off, fill a corner of the Jaspers’ lower level.

Mark, a Vietnam War veteran, had several careers in the legal field, from store security to paralegal to the Food and Drug Administration. He and wife Melanie like traveling — they’re planning a trip to the British Isles next summer.

Her contribution is the 5-foot Santa just inside the front door, a holiday fixture with a story.

“I’ve had him since my daughter Ashley was six months old,” said Melanie. “She turns 33 next month. My mom worked for a credit union and they changed ownership and so they were throwing away all the old stuff. Mom called and said, ‘I have a present for Ashley, but you will need a truck to come get it.’”

This year’s lighting adventure took a toll on Mark.

“I had surgery on my rotator cuff (Dec. 16), my left shoulder,” he said. “It was just from working with extension cords. I redid the wiring system to make it better, more effective. I tore my muscle. I didn’t notice right away. It was four or five days before it really started bothering me.”

I had surgery on my rotator cuff (Dec. 16), my left shoulder. It was just from working with extension cords. I redid the wiring system to make it better, more effective. I tore my muscle.

Mark Jasper on his Christmas light injury

But the joy he gets from the project makes him forget his pain — most of the time.

“Sometimes, I look out through the window and watch,” he said. “I had just put a new song out by Trans Siberian Orchestra. A little girl on the sidewalk stood there and conducted the music. I thought it was so cool. People learn about it through Facebook and word-of-mouth. It’s a way to get in the spirit and see old friends. That’s what it’s all about.”

Neighbor Ed Sander appreciates Santa and the light display across the street.

“Mark has the patience of Job to put it together,” he said. “At least he got it up before he pulled his shoulder. Mark has tried for years and years to get me to put up lights. I got him one year. I said, ‘I am going to have lights.’ ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘I am going to put mirrors on the gutters.’”

We asked Mark a few questions.

Q: What do you like about lights?

A: “When we were kids, Dad would never put lights out, just a Christmas tree. That’s about it. I liked lights. When I got married, I started putting up lights. Early on, my wife Mel had a Santa with a broken arm that wouldn’t wave. I fixed it. He looks like he’s doing a forward football pass. Now, he’s always at the front door.” About eight years ago, Mark bought a computerized system to link music and lights. “I did that for two years, then decided to spend money where I could program it myself. It could take maybe a week, working two hours a day. It gets kind of complicated. You can let your home computer do it for you, but it’s better when you do it yourself.”

Q: Do you have any idea how many lights are in your display?

A: “Probably 25,000 to 30,000. There’s no way to keep track. The hardest part is laying out extension cords. Number 1, dot 1, lights the mailbox blue. Number 1, dot 2, lights the tree behind the mailbox. ... You have to run a separate cord to each one.”

Q: What is your Fontebella connection?

A: “Bob Hoff gave me a call one day. (His wife Susan came up with the idea for the maternity home.) We own some farmland next to part of their property. He asked why I was against a maternity home being built. I told him, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ He explained that he wanted to get the land rezoned.” Turns out Mark owns the property with a family member who was opposed to rezoning. “Bob and I got close. There was a farmhouse on the property where my mom and aunt were raised, about a quarter mile away. There is also a hundred-year-old barn. When we went to take my aunt through the house, the grass was high. I told Bob, ‘If you need someone to cut grass, I have time.’ I cut about 12 acres.”

Q: Is this your first lighting injury?

A: “Three years ago, I damaged my right shoulder. I actually damaged the other shoulder pulling luggage off the airport carrousel, but I refused to do surgery because I wanted to get the lights up. I’ve been doing lights six years for Fontebella. Out of those six years, I hurt both my shoulders and hurt my bad ankle another year and had to wear a boot. It gets kind of dangerous.”

Q: How long will your lights be shining?

A: “Jan. 1 will be the last day, but they don’t come down till it gets warm out. This (shoulder) recovery will take about four months.”

Q: Does anyone help you?

A: “My wife helps monitor the donations. She puts donations on a spread sheet and gives it to Fontebella.” (The word fontebella means “beautiful source of life” in Italian.)

Q: Some of Mark’s favorite holiday songs?

A: ‘“Where are you Christmas?’ by Faith Hill, Trans Siberian Orchestra’s ‘Wizard in Winter,’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ with the Minions.”

Q: Other favorite light displays?

A: “There are a couple houses in Troy that are excellent (119 Pebblebrook Lane or 1463 Martin Drive). There’s also one at 621 Somerset Lane in O’Fallon. There are no flashing lights, but it’s really neat.”

For information about Fontebella, call 618 406-4355 or visit the website info@fontebella. org.

Christmas lights in New Baden

  • What you’ll see: More than 20,000 plus lights computerized to music and videos on a screen mounted in a window
  • Address: 605 Christopher Lane, New Baden
  • Hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. daily through Jan. 1; on weekends till 11. Lights will e on till midnight Dec. 24 and 25, and all night New Year’s Eve.
  • What you can do: Lights are timed to match the music and video playing. You can vote for a song and move it to the next song played. Type in your smartphone to see the. Vote on a song you want to see next.
  • For charity: Bring a donation to benefit Fontebella Maternity Shelter.
  • Want to see other New Baden light displays? Go to:
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